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Paul Mellon Centre | Rereading Constable: Letters, Life and Art

December 2, 2022 @ 3:30 am - 1:00 pm

How do artists’ letters articulate professional and personal affiliations, embody networks and forge allegiances? What role has letter writing played in artistic self-fashioning? In what ways do letters serve as a form of art-historical evidence, and help us understand works of art themselves?
R.B. Beckett’s multi-volume edition of Constable’s correspondence, published in six volumes by the Suffolk Records Society (1962–68), has long been recognised as an invaluable source for scholars working on the artist, and for all those interested in British art and culture in the late Georgian period. The published correspondence shows the painter to have been a shrewd, skilled writer, versed in a variety of literary, scientific and biblical texts. His correspondents were, in turn, often highly articulate writers, including many family members, and many more with very different characters and backgrounds. Often utilised by art historians, the correspondence has more recently attracted the interest of scholars interested in the literary character and rhetorical conventions of nineteenth-century correspondence, who have subjected Constable’s letters to new kinds of critical scrutiny. This event will build on this important work, exploring Romantic art, culture and society through the prism provided by the landscape painter’s correspondence.
The central structuring concept of this interdisciplinary conference is that speakers will focus on a single letter written by the artist, his correspondents or other contemporary figures whose work, life or letters can be understood in productive relation to Constable himself. These individual letters will be used to open up new questions and arguments about Constable’s life, practice and identity as a painter, and about the wider artistic, literary, religious and political cultures of his era.
Rereading Constable: Letters, Life and Art has been organised as part of the PMC’s Generation Landscape research project. The conference is being convened by Stephen Daniels and Mark Hallett.