Royal Academy, London
Forget the rural idylls. This sublime show recasts John Constable as the godfather of the avant garde, producing explosive, nightmarish paintings of a vanishing world
There was no honking traffic on the A303 near Stonehenge when John Constable captured the monument in 1835, no visitor centre, no crowds circling the perimeter in an endless flow. In his watercolour, the site stands alone and utterly mysterious, with just a handful of sightseers dwarfed by colossal semi-collapsed stones. But the real drama is in the sky: an ever-shifting veil of blue, shot through with white and rippling with energy like an electric field. As an observation of nature, it makes no sense, in particular the two immense arcs that cut through the atmosphere, plunging down upon the stones. These spectacular sights have no origin in the natural world: they have come from inside the painter.
Late Constable, the much-awaited show at the Royal Academy in London, tells the story of an artist losing his cool – and discovering an inner fire so strong that it compelled him to make modern art in the early 19th century. Constable believed when he was young that a painter should simply record what he sees.