Constable and Turner landscapes reunited for first time since 1831

Paintings behind one of most famous feuds in British artistic history go head to head at Tate

Tate Britain has hung two paintings by John Constable and JMW Turner together for the first time since 1831, when their display provoked a row between the artists that rumbled on for years.

Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, a lyrical rain-sodden landscape with a rainbow as a symbol of hope for the artist heartbroken at the recent death of his wife, has returned to the Tate after a five-year tour of UK galleries where it was seen by at least a million people.

The artist regarded the painting as his greatest work, and in 1831 it hung briefly beside Turner’s Caligula’s Palace and Bridge, a view of monuments of antiquity fallen into ruin, which a contemporary critic called “one of the most beautiful and magnificent landscapes that ever mind conceived or pencil drew”.

At the Royal Academy in 1831, Constable was the “hangman”, responsible for the placing of the paintings. He initially gave the Turner one of the best positions, in the centre of the end wall of the Great Room at Somerset House, central London, then the home of the academy.

Just before the opening he switched the Turner for his own picture – an outrage the peppery Turner was never going to forgive. The artists met at a dinner party and a row erupted in which Turner “slew Constable without remorse”, according to one account.

The following year the pair again ended up on the same wall at the academy. Constable’s Opening of Waterloo Bridge was a complex painting he had worked on for a decade. Turner’s Helvoetsluys was a simpler seascape.

Just before the opening Turner came in, looked at his painting and added one detail – a small crimson buoy bobbing in the waves that instantly drew the eye of viewers. Constable remarked: “He has been in here and he has fired a gun.”

The 1831 paintings have been reframed and reunited at the Tate for the Fire and Water display, which will include the reviews that remarked on Turner’s poetic imagination and Constable’s naturalism.

The Salisbury Cathedral painting had been on long loan to the National Gallery. It was put up for sale in 2013 but saved from export after a national appeal, major grants from the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and an unprecedented partnership between the Tate, the national museums and galleries of Wales and Scotland, and the local museums in Colchester, Ipswich and Salisbury.

The painting then went on a long tour, called Aspire, with exhibitions created around it.

Alex Farquharson, the director of Tate Britain, said the tour showed creative partnerships could expand the interest in, and understanding of, such masterpieces.

“Constable wanted the work to be seen by as many people across the country as possible. This has encapsulated his wish making this monumental piece of art history available to an every broader audience.”


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Turner and Constable exhibitions revive Britain's greatest art rivalry

Tate Britain and V&A to host simultaneous shows by landscape masters and contemporaries who helped inspire impressionism

Jonathan Jones

24, Aug, 2014 @12:44 PM

Article image
Anarchy in the open air: Turner, Constable and pioneering landscapes

Maev Kennedy: A thrilling new exhibition pits groundbreaking landscape art from 18th-century Britain against modern takes on the form

Maev Kennedy

16, Jul, 2013 @3:17 PM

Article image
Constable, Turner, Gainsborough and the Making of Landscape

Landscape painting was a lowly genre in the mid-18th century, but then captured the popular imagination. Michael Prodger looks forward to a new exhibition that charts its rise

Michael Prodger

23, Nov, 2012 @10:55 PM

Article image
Royal Academy show to look back at 250 years of Summer Exhibitions
The Great Spectacle, to be held in London in 2018, will illustrate controversies and disputes of art world since 1768

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

05, Jul, 2017 @5:25 PM

Article image
Pissarro in Norwood, Monet at the Savoy: what the exiled impressionists saw in London
Many great artists found refuge in London after fleeing tumult in France. Their sensational landscapes – beautifully capturing its streets, waters and winter snows – are the highlight of a major new exhibition at Tate Britain

Richard Shone

20, Oct, 2017 @2:44 PM

Article image
Late Turner at Tate Britain review – an exciting, entrancing show

The curators brilliantly mix up all the types of art he experimented with, without making judgments about the 'real' Turner, writes Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones

08, Sep, 2014 @11:53 AM

Article image
JMW Turner sketch for The Fighting Temeraire on display for first time
Restored draft will accompany the final work in Tate Britain exhibition in London

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

26, Oct, 2020 @4:10 PM

Article image
Turner’s Modern World review – a roaring, wondrous whirlpool of a show
From the most devastating depiction of the slave trade ever to an erotically-charged shipwreck, JMW Turner’s heart-stopping maelstroms of sea and steam and smoke made him a true visionary of his age

Jonathan Jones

26, Oct, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
JMW Turner and sex: exhibition offers insight into private life of artist
Rarely seen erotic drawings offer glimpse into the painter’s private life and relationship with women

Mark Brown

03, Jul, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
Edward Burne-Jones masterpieces to be united for first time
Briar Rose and Perseus cycle of paintings to be centrepiece of Tate Britain retrospective

Maev Kennedy

30, May, 2018 @3:13 PM