The Principle Of Beauty

by solitary walker

“I have left no immortal work behind me — nothing to make my friends proud of my memory — but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things…” John Keats (From a letter to Fanny Brawne written February 1820 in the knowledge that he was mortally ill.) 

Dedham Vale 1802

There’s a delightful short chapter in a book I’m reading at the moment –Geoffrey Murray’s The Gentle Art Of Walking (1939) – about the artist John Constable, who happens to be one of my favourite English painters. Constable sought to find Keats‘s “principle of beauty” in all things, no matter how humble. There was nothing ugly in the world, he declared, that he had ever seen, for, whatever the form of an object, light and shade and perspective could make it beautiful. He once said, “The sound of the water escaping from milldams, etc., willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts and brickwork, I love such things.”


Constable wanted his pictures to be as simple and unaffected as the writings of Hampshire natural historian Gilbert White, whom he admired. The critic William Cosmo Monkhouse said that Constable “was the first to paint the greenness and moisture of his native country… Other painters have made us see Nature at a distance or through a window; he alone has planted our feet in her midst.”

Constable particularly enjoyed painting clouds, and what he called “the natural history of the skies.”

“No two days are alike, nor even two hours: neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world.” John Constable