Constable, Forster and clouds

“Clouds of any one of the aforementioned modifications [of the Nimbus or Raincloud], at the same degree of elevation, may increase so much as completely to obscure the sky: (…) and the effect of this obscuration may be such as would induce an inattentive observer to expect the speedy fall of rain.” (Forster, 1823: 31) . I have been reading Thomas Forster’s Researches about Atmospheric Phenomena, in which he details his observation of different cloud formations. He also details a day to day calendar of weather for 1819- 1823 in the back of the book. Looking at the date today in 1819 he writes, “A fine warm spring day, after a night of rain. Schoeniclus arundinaceus observed. Swallows and Martlets become common. Orchis morio in flower.” Been observing the sky myself- nimbus every day, covering the sky for the last few weeks, with the sound of aeroplanes as they appear between the layers of clouds. Can’t say that it has been a warm spring day today. E. Rubecula (robbin red breast) observed and magnolia in flower. Also five fox cubs playing amongst the pampas grass. In 1820, however, the weather seems to fit more accurately what I am experiencing in 2012: “The day was cloudy and cold, with South Wind, followed by Rain and Gales at night.”

A quote from http://www.islandnet.com The Weather Almanac:

One of the great British artists and a forerunner in true plein air oil painting, John Constable added a scientific eye to his art. Influenced by Luke Howard’s 1804 essay Modification of Clouds classifications, which became known during his midlife, Constable often noted the weather conditions prevailing during his plein air painting sessions on the back of the canvas. It was said that later in life, he could reproduce a skyscape directly from his observational notes. Constable admitted in an 1821 letter, “I have done a good deal of skying”

Eric Sloane asserted he had coined the term skyscape to describe his style of sky/cloud paintings. But a century earlier, Constable gave sky/cloud paintings a name when he coined the term skying to describe his artistic focus on clouds. His obsession with clouds was such that from 1820 to 1821 he focused a series of paintings and sketches — numbering around 50 — looking upward from the English landscape that combined the naturalist’s eye with the artist’s. And like Sloane, who studied meteorology at MIT for a time to better understand the sky, Constable studied the writings Thomas Forster’s Researches About Atmospheric Phaenomena, a popularization and extension of Luke Howard’s 1804 essay Modification of Clouds. The annotations in his copy of Thomas Forster’s book indicate he kept abreast of the state of the science, at times even arguing with Forster’s interpretation.

Constable Cloud Study, 1822

“Among Constable’s contemporaries, the English Romantic poets also had a great deal to say about clouds. Wordsworth famously “wandered lonely as a cloud.” In Shelley’s “Mutability,” clouds, as often in Romantic poetry, are an emblem of evanescence and change; in the second section of his “Ode to the West Wind,” when Shelley turns from wind-driven leaves to clouds, they become symbols of our own fleeting selves.For Coleridge, clouds were emblems of freedom, as in his ode to France—”Ye Clouds! that far above me float and pause,/ Whose pathless march no mortal may control!”—or of poetic consciousness, as in “Dejection.” (Christopher Benfey, Head in the Clouds, http://www.slate.com)

Filed under: skying

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My work is concerned with auratic translations, interpretation and fiction in our encounters with the landscape. I use photographic installations, projections and print editions to explore notions of the politics of place, resistance and ruin. I am interested in the spaces between what we know and what we think we know about the world, and have investigated these ideas in a series of installations and prints over the last few years.

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