Paintings Compare and Contrast Essay

The world of art is full of numerous examples of the masterpieces, which do not stop to impress contemporary connoisseurs and viewers. The British painting of the 18th century represents an incredibly important stage in Britain's art development. At the beginning of the 18th century, England became a powerful economically developed country with enormous political authority. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, England became the owner of the seas. The new sea routes and trade in the country contributed to the development of a strong bourgeoisie. The alliance between the bourgeoisie and the nobility was the principle feature of the English Revolution of the 18th century, which affected the course of the history of Britain. Therefore, the results of the revolution impacted England a century before France.

Numerous names of outstanding people started to appear, enriching the culture and the majesty of the Kingdom. Such artists as John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough influenced the painting approaches used before and made a great contribution to the development of the world art of the 18th century (Lipking 10). Thus, the aim of the paper is to compare and contrast paintings and approaches of the two artists, John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough, who came from the same country and from the same town, Suffolk. To achieve this purpose, such paintings as Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’) (1816–17) and Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream (1760) are going to be compared and contrasted to single out the essential similarities and differences in the artworks of the two artists. 


John Constable (1776-1837)

The works of John Constable, one of the greatest British artists, belong to the 18th-century art. Constable stands alone in the history of the English art. He had no real successor in his homeland. However, in France, as the investigators of the art and his paintings believe, he inspired Delacroix and later the Impressionists. He showed his talent early, but his originality was manifested much later. Young Constable was in love with nature and preferred to stay in his native village, away from the swinging and noisy London streets. He decided to become an artist in 1799. Each year, Constable exhibited his works at the exhibitions of the Royal Academy. However, unfortunately, he always became an object of harsh criticism. The young artist patiently listened to the caustic remarks of the professors of the Academy, dreaming of the time when he would be a member of it and be able to work independently of somebody's opinions (Bailey 37). Only in 1829, after a five-time presentation of his candidature, Constable finally became a full member of the Royal Academy (Bailey 35). 

At first, Constable worked in a manner, which had been similar to the style of Gainsborough. However, later he developed his style, which could be perceived as more realistic. Constable believed that the 18th century had no two similar days, hours, or even two identical lives. This philosophical position was reflected in the works of the artist. The artist was in love with the native landscapes; hence, he frequently painted his native places, Suffolk and Hampstead, where he had lived from 1821 (P. Ivanišević and M. Ivanišević 85). Constable preferred to paint, using light strokes of pure white and yellow. He preferred to work in the open air; however, later he used to modify his paintings in the studio.

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Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)

The world of feelings, moods, lyricism, and poetic creativity, which had been characteristic of Reynolds, the most outstanding English painter, has been transmitted to Thomas Gainsborough’s paintings. He worked mainly in the field of portraiture, but at the same time, he was known to be one of the English landscape founders. Extremely talented, having a unique perception of the world, Gainsborough was generally regarded as a realist. His paintings were characterized by a sense of complex and sophisticated characters portrayed, to which the harmony of colors corresponded.

Gainsborough, similarly to Constable, was born in Suffolk in the family of a cloth merchant. He was lucky to study in London at the Frenchman Graveleau, and later at Hayman. His early works belonged to the field of landscape painting. Having acquired the fame as a master of portraiture, he began to receive orders from the celebrities and titled nobility of his time.

Being very closed and unsociable, the artist traveled outside his homeland. His passion for painting and music helped him identify the most complex color harmonies and rhythms of his paintings (Edwards et al. 600). At the very beginning of his work, Gainsborough's portraits created a unique type of composition. He portrayed landscapes or strolling vacationers. The constant circulation of the artist's motives came from national landscapes, leading to the enrichment of landscape portrait composition background (Brewer 15). 

Over the time, the portraits of the artist enhanced features of fine spirituality. Social characteristics had been sidelined. In these works, the surrounding human environment, especially nature – for instance, the landscape of the old park or the edge of the forest – become an ideal environment, harmoniously attuned to the mood which had been portrayed (Snell 75).

Comparison and Contrast of Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’) by John Constable and Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream by Thomas Gainsborough

Regarding the painting Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’), it is necessary to mention that the power of the art of John Constable in this painting reached a high degree. Particularly, a scene of quite a convincing perspective depth, its proportions, and precision of individual parts attract viewers. However, the critics noted that the style of the painting lacked unity (Barrell 128). In this work, Constable painted his familiar landscape. As a child, he played on the banks of the river, next to the red brick mill of his father. 

The foreground of the painting shows a bridge and the horse, which tows the barges along the river. The boatman under the bridge holds the barge. Starting from the bottom of the work, the viewer's perception falls into the depths of the painting depicting the mill and buildings on the river.

On the right, in the middle ground, a mower lonely walks through the meadow. Possibly, the summer was rainy; hence, the viewer can see the streams spilled. To make the foliage and grass seem alive, Constable combined shades of green and splashes of red complement, which was an extremely innovative technique in the 18th century. The artist painted clouds and sky in the picture with the certainty. Constable studied how a cloud in the sky changes light and casts shadows on the ground. However, Constable’s contemporaries did not immediately understand his works due to the introduction of the new techniques. Consequently, the picture was not sold. Today, these places are declared a historic monument and are the center of pilgrimage for fans of Constable.

Oppositely to Constable, the painting Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream by Gainsborough is a masterpiece, which depicts the way of the peasants who probably go to the market or turn back. It is possible to suppose that the family of peasants walks back home in their wagon and they are tired of the labor day (Brewer 52). Similar to Constable, the landscape depicted in the picture is warm and bathed in the sunset rays. These colors add to the perception of the picture and stimulate the imagination of the viewer. The poetic scene depicted in the foreground of both works is the life of the ordinary people in the 18th century England, where the two artists were born and lived. 

To understand better the paintings under analysis, it is necessary to observe the key characteristics of the Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream and Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’). The size of the Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream  is 1435 x 1537 mm ("Thomas Gainsborough"). The medium of the painting is oil paint on canvas. Nowadays, the masterpiece belongs to the heritage of the Tate Gallery in London. The painting can be characterized by the wide use of the bright colors, which contribute to the perception of the author's idea, namely to depict the peaceful atmosphere of the rural life in England of the 18th century. The brush strokes of the painting are accurate and tiny to depict the essential details, which interested the artist. The lines of the objects and figures depicted in the picture are a little vague since the author wanted to show the sunset. In the best Gainsborough’s traditions, the space of the canvas was distributed in such a way that the center of the painting depicts people who are implemented into nature. The biggest part of the painting, however, is dedicated to the depiction of nature, which surrounds people and horses. The balanced colors of the picture follow the same pattern. In particular, the somber colors of the foreground gradually become brighter in the background. If the painting is being regarded for a long time, it may seem that a viewer can hear the same tranquility which had been depicted by the author and which had probably been present at the time the artist painted the masterpiece. Alike with Constable, the painting Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream by Gainsborough is a manifestation of love and devotion to nature and its beauty.

Opposite to the Gainsborough's painting, the Constable's Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’) possesses smaller dimensions: 1016 x1270 ("John Constable"). The painting is filled with the clear and light colors due to the part of the day. The painting can seem much more vivid in comparison with the Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream since many people drown are performing various works. In other words, there is a constant motion in the picture. The painting, in the close similarity to the Gainsborough's work, has the same brush strokes, which are accurate and tiny. The medium of the painting is also oil paint on canvas. The lines of the objects and people's figures are more accurate than in the Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream. It is determined by the daytime depiction, where everything is more visible and pure. Space is used in a particular way: the majority of space has been given, primarily, to the depiction of the sky and, secondly, to the depiction of nature. The people who are exhibited in the picture are nothing else but tiny figures. It is possible to assume that the author meant that nature is the mother who created people and they are not able to be more important than nature itself.

It becomes possible to conclude that the painting Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream does not address the fashionable Dutch manner of painting of that time. The painting of Gainsborough is filled with a huge amount of details, which fulfill their essential function: to provide the viewer with the three-dimensional omnipresence of nature. Certainly, the author was not familiar with such a technique as the third dimension. However, literally saying, nature depicted in the picture seems to be as alive as it had been when the author was painting it.

It is important to mention that in the works of already mature Gainsborough, it is impossible to find any urban architectural landscapes or even recognizable images of specific places (Lipking 13). Despite the need to earn money, he refused to write topographically accurate kinds of estates, which English squires were eager to have. For a long time, Gainsborough was mainly known for his portraits, although the artist himself was always close to the landscape painting. However, abstract landscapes were not appreciated at that time; therefore, nobody ordered or bought them. The fashion for the landscape painting came only in the late 18th century (Lipking 15). 

It was necessary to paint portraits for money. However, unlike Constable, Gainsborough decided to introduce his innovation, which had to combine the psychical appearance of people and landscapes. Thus, Gainsborough was led to one of his principal artistic discoveries, namely the creation of a landscape portrait, where a person and nature merge. In such paintings as, for instance, Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream the figures of people become generalized. It becomes difficult to single out the difference between an oak and an elm, between a shrub and a flower (Edwards et al. 599). Owing to such an approach, Gainsborough moved away from purely actual observations in nature and united the memories of his native places with the people's appearance. The portraits he tried to convey were instantaneous and produced an immediate impression on the models, regardless of their 'social status.' Unlike Constable, he was interested in a regular everyday human form, but not purely in nature (Edwards et al. 600).

Regardless of the fact that the two artists had a tendency to perform the landscape painting, the majority of the scholars believes that Constable's paintings were lacking the originality of the content in comparison with the Gainsborough's works (Edwards et al. 599). Meanwhile, another part of the investigators of the 18th-century British art claim that Gainsborough did not perform such a great amount of techniques, which examples can be easily found in the works of Constable. In other words, due to the mystical coincidence in the place of birth, the two artists used to add to each other's art. One of them was keen on the techniques, which had to be innovative to make a revolution in the landscape painting and art, in general. Another one cared more for the form of the picture and attempted to enrich it with numerous details, which were not characteristic of the works of Constable. Thus, it is possible to claim that the coincidences and differences in the art of the two incredible figures of the 18th-century British art created the vision of the traditions, which had been formed by them. In other words, the necessity in both new techniques and contents will lead to the innovations in the approaches. Consequently, it resulted in the future development of the art of landscape painting.

Nonetheless, the main similarity, which was typical to both Constable and Gainsborough, lay in the fact that they both made an incredibly great contribution to the art of the 18th century. The peculiarity of the English culture of that century consisted in its acceleration relative to the rest of Europe and its development. It was due to the early birth of bourgeois democracy and the industrial civilization in this country. The period of the continental traditions of classicism and dynamic, emotional baroque coincided with the emergence in Britain of a new, deviant art, represented by both Constable and Gainsborough. 

Therefore, the culture of the Enlightenment acquired the influence of special shades of empirical philosophical sensationalism and simultaneous effect of Neo-Platonic ideas. According to these ideas and the artists' perception of the reality, the world around them in their paintings appeared as a moving, soulful, and full of beauty and universal moral and religious values.


The events, which used to bear the social, political, and economic character in England of the 18th – early 19th centuries, had a direct and indirect impact on the English culture, primarily on the full rebellion of romantic trends in art. The English art of the last quarter of the 18th century - the first third of the 19th century flows into the art world with its distinct national traits, perception of reality, outlook, and formal system. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the most interesting achievements of the British fine art lies in the genre of landscape painting, which characterized the art of the larger part of the continental Europe. 

Undoubtedly, the British artists, John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough, produced the most significant influence on the paintings of the 19th century. Their vision of the landscape painting was similar. It was determined by the fact that they originated from the same region of England and had a chance to experience the same beauty of the landscapes. Nonetheless, the differences in their creative works are still obvious and determined by the different, even opposite way to the fame and acknowledgment. The works by Gainsborough are characterized by the numerous use of details while Constable's works are less complex and complicated. 

In addition, another contrast, which was proper to Constable and Gainsborough, consisted in the fact that Constable rejected the conventions of typical landscape painting of the 18th century. Constable turned to direct observation of nature and he was the first in the history of European landscape who began to paint landscapes from nature completely. His paintings were simple, natural, and majestic in composition, full of feeling of harmonious unity and material nature. On the contrary, Gainsborough paid more attention to the form of the picture, enriching it with numerous details. Moreover, unlike Constable, he moved away from observations in nature and combined the memories of his native places with the people's appearance.

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