John Constable's Clouds are still passing
In 1822 John Constable (1776-1837) painted from his front garden "landscapes" that show only cloudy skies. He noted on a number of his paintings the exact time, the date and some remarks concerning the weather conditions. Nowadays only twelve of these annotated cloud studies are known. 173 years later the artist Gerhard Lang photographed passing clouds from Constable's front garden at the identical times and dates. Lang's work is a statement about meteorological matters as well as about painting, but above all about the nature of documentation: Is the same still the same after 173 years?

"When we compare Constable's paintings with Lang's photographs we cannot help noticing how strongly the medium, oil painting or photography, influences the information. Do (did) clouds really look the way Constable depicts them? And is it an accident that Lang found seemingly soft clouds, while Constable painted dramatic cloud formations? We may certainly assume that Constable would not have taken up his brush in conditions that meteorologists would call "overcast". [Excerpt from: John Constable's Clouds are still passing, by Lucius Burckhardt, in: Basler Magazin, Nr. 13, 1997. More about Lucius Burckhardt: see Glossary]

Ill. I: Gerhard Lang photographing passing clouds from the front garden of house Nr. 2 in the London district of Hampstead 173 years after Constable had observed and pictured the clouds from the same place. Photo: Niall Monro.

Ill. II: John Constable, oil study, 31st August 1822, 5-6 o'clock. Large clouds to the Eastward - light wind [?West].Reproduced by kind permission of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.

Ill. III: Gerhard Lang, photograph, 31st August 1995, 5-6 o'clock. Rainy in the morning, later cloudy and foggy with some sunshine. The Clouds move towards South-West, mostly with strong wind..
Ill. IV: John Constable, oil study, 6th September 1822. Noon. Gentle wind at West. Hot and fine. Reproduced by kind permission of David Thomson, Toronto.

Ill. V: Gerhard Lang, photograph, 6th September 1995. Noon. Cloudy, cool in the morning, getting warmer during the day and more sunshine, wind from South-West.

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Gerhard Lang © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn