Victoria & Albert Museum curators talk about the upcoming Art Safari exhibition dedicated to John Constable

Before the official opening of the 10th edition of Art Safari, on September 23rd, Propagarta spoke to the two curators of the long-awaited exhibition dedicated to John Constable, one of the most important landscape artists of Great Britain. Dr. Emily Knight and Dr. Katharine Martin told us about the most exciting things we will be able to see at Art Safari, this fall. (Foto: John Constable, ‘Dedham Lock and Mill’, 1820)

You are curating an exhibition away from home, here in Bucharest. What were the challenges that you’ve encountered while putting together this show?

The exhibition is at the Palatul Dacia-România which is an old building with lots of small interconnected rooms. Neither one of us were able to visit the venue in advance, so with help from our colleagues at Art Safari, who provided plans and information about the space, we worked on creating a narrative for the exhibition that would work..

For how long have you been preparing this show and how many artworks will we be able to see?

We have been working on the exhibition for less than a year, which is quite a tight turnaround for a show of this size. The exhibition includes over 80 works of art by Constable and some of the artists he most admired and collected. Visitors can expect to see a wide range of objects including paintings, oil sketches, drawings, watercolours and prints.

This is the first time when John Constable’s art is being showcased in Romania and, for many visitors, it might be the first time they meet his artwork. What do you think will impress people here the most, when in front of a Constable landscape?

It has been really exciting thinking about the best way of presenting the work of John Constable in a new context. He’s a very famous artist in Britain but much less so in Romania. We hope that people will be impressed by his working process and how he so cleverly combined his reverence for past painters with close observation of the natural world.

John Constable. Landscape & Double Rainbow; unframed; dated 28th July 1812. Oil on paper laid on canvas.

Each country has its own extremely valued artists. It is true to say that Romanian art history is very linked to landscape and the role that nature plays in art, thanks to our most well known Nicolae Grigorescu. What kind of mark did Constable leave on Great Britain’s artistic heritage?

Constable had a huge impact on landscape painting in Britain but also in Europe, especially France. The French were quick to embrace Constable’s work during his lifetime unlike the artistic establishment in Britain who were slower to catch on! Constable was one of a group of artists in the 19th century that focused on and transformed landscape painting as a genre but it is often Constable who is credited with creating the most enduring image of the English landscape.

Ignored for a great part of art history… what is the lesson that landscape painting genre can teach us?

The status of landscape painting has definitely shifted over time but it has always been an important aspect of British art. When we look at historic landscape painting today, it can make us reflect on the world we have inherited and the importance of protecting its biodiversity amidst worrying climate change. Landscape painting also allows us to escape to another time and place and we hope that visitors to the exhibition will enjoy walking in Constable’s footsteps and discovering the world he lived in, the landscape he loved, and his process as an artist.

John Constable, ‘Study of Cirrus Clouds’, c. 1821-22

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