Boatbuilding
John Constable


1814
Oil on paper
Victoria & Albert Museum, London



 

Objective Description
     The large wooden boat dominates the lower front center of the picture plane. The well-highlighted boat rests on dry land, diagonally placed (in linear perspective) to complete its formation at the river's upper edge. The narrow river placed approximately two thirds into the picture plane, divides a broad expanse of land (in the lower portion) from a larger expanse of sky and tree tops (in the upper portion).
     There only appears to be four people within the compositional space, the most prominent being the male figure highlighted in the shadows center front. Two figures are placed left and right of the central boat, obscured by the landscape, and a third (in a blue shirt) on a boat on the river to the left of the larger boat.
     Although the landscape and bright weather dominate the composition, the natural light highlights the surrounding activity, as well as the position of the central boat.

Subjective Analysis
     The activity of boat making was prolific along the rivers and newly created canals of England. The central placement of the naturally lit wooden boat draws our attention to its prominence. Obviously hand made, and in a position to be launched, the wooden boat structure shadows the human figure in the foreground. All four figures within the compositional space appear to be subordinate to the natural surroundings and man made structures.
     The inclusion of larger trees, soft focused and in the background adds to the value of nature and in an environment that must depend on those very trees to build the boats. Both coexist peacefully within the picture frame, and in a picturesque fashion.

How happily has England been preserved in the midst of these surrounding troubles!… Not that her state is altogether prosperous and secure. Wherever you look evils exist within her, threatening future consequences terrible to contemplate… On the whole, we do not have to witness much distress about here. Papa's mills give employment to so many, and the people in this village, having both better and more regular pay than the agricultural labourers, get many little comforts about them and are not reduced to starvation on the first disaster. You see books on their tables and muslin blinds in their windows, very often, and altogether a degree of civilization about the place which it is very comforting to witness…

Harriet Evans; Letter to Sebastian Dickinson, 1848