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The comparison of John Constable’s Hay Wain and William Turner’s The Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying — Typhon Coming on) that one can make is as treacherous as between the styles in which the painters worked.
Both of the painters are among the most prominent landscape artists. Turner and Constable were influential advocates of romanticism, an artistic movement that originated in the middle of the 18th century and emphasized human emotions as a means of response to nature.
Seascapes and landscapes presented by Turner are often inspired by some historical events, Constable’s works, on the contrary, impress the viewer with the vividness of the ordinary scenery’s description. This difference between the author’s subjects is predetermined by Turner’s love for travel and Constable’s tender feelings for his native country.
If we consider the difference between these painters as reflected in their works, we should say that Constable’s work is more infused by naturalist concerns whereas Turner’s one is characterized by more romantic elements.
Constable’s Hay Wain
Constable’s Hay Wain is an example of the author’s ability to view nature in very accurate and precise detail and portray it as it is. Constable presents the subject of his painting with no stylization. The Hay Wain is based on a site in Suffolk, the place where Constable’s father lived. In the foreground, the picture depicts the hay wain standing near the river Stour. In the distance on the right, there is a meadow where haymakers work, the picture also depicts a farmer’s cottage. The reality of the scene described prevents the viewer from thinking that the picture was created in the artist’s studio in London.
Turner’s The Slave Ship
The subject of The Slave Ship is the practice of 18th-century slave traders. During the middle passage in the Atlantic Ocean slave traders used to throw the “cargo” that they carried overbroad, thus they could claim the insurance for “drowning”. This painting was the author’s assistance to the abolitionist campaign.
The romanticism traditions are reflected in the author’s depicting the sea. The violent power of the sea is aimed at representing the forces of nature punishing the human’s guilt. As an example of the romanticism movement, The Slave Ship emphasized trepidation and horror caused by the event described. The viewer cannot remain indifferent to the human vices that are implied by the painting.
The skillful usage of color contributes to the viewer’s feelings and emotions produced by the painting. Purple and blue colors, the wan shadows that Turner has used evoke the feeling of something cold and never-ending. The sky is cut by the lines of blood; it is the mixture of flaming flood with the sunlight.
Therefore, we can see that this painting combines both the naturalism and romanticism traditions with the dominance of the latter ones. If compared with Constable’s work, this painting evokes more impetuous feelings. Though it is less enigmatic and quiet, it encourages the viewers to act somehow so that the situation described could be changed.
We are inclined to believe that the two authors defined various goals when creating the works. Therefore, various emphases were made in the style chosen. The prevalence of the naturalist concern in Constable’s work and the romanticism elements in Turner’s one is justified in terms of the goals set.
Cunningham, Lawrence, and John J. Reich. Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities. Wadsworth Publishing, 2005.