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In the news: Constable's Cornfield visits Basildon as National Gallery tour brings art to the centre of everyday life

John Constable's The Cornfield, one of the most beloved paintings from the National Gallery's London collection, will be unveiled tomorrow to passing visitors to North Gunnels, Basildon.

Decorative image showing John Constable's The Cornfield
The painting, which has come to Basildon as part of the bi-annual Visits programme, will be here until Sunday 18 June. It has previously been in Newport, Isle of Wight, and will continue its tour until Mid July

Ahead of The Cornfield arriving, Things Made Public collaborated with South Essex College and Street Tag to deliver interactive workshops that inspire young people to get active and creative by exploring the art and nature of Basildon. These were delivered at local schools including Greensted Primary School, Abacus Primary School, Ryedene Primary School, Noakbridge Primary School, Runwell Community Primary School and North Crescent Primary School.

Although completed in Constable's London studio in 1826, this painting of a Suffolk lane shown winding into a cornfield is based on Fen Lane, which Constable often walked along as a boy, from his own village of East Bergholt to Dedham where he attended school. The lane still exists but the countryside and village beyond it were largely invented. The Cornfield often inspires viewers to think about what home means to them and how it makes them feel. Constable himself wrote that 'painting is but another word for feeling'. 

Previous Visits tours have not only introduced thousands of people to the National Gallery but have also provided the opportunity to engage with and benefit from culture in their local areas in the longer term. Audiences all over the UK who said they were not regular visitors to cultural spaces responded afterwards that they were interested in seeing art again in the future. Workshops and activities delivered in partnership with local museums and galleries helped them grow their own audiences in turn. Participants in workshops remarked afterwards on how inclusive they had found the experience and described feeling more confident in themselves and their ability to create art and express themselves.

Councillor Jeff Henry, Cabinet Member for Health, Wellbeing, Leisure, Arts and Culture in Basildon said: "I am delighted that the National Gallery has chosen to visit Basildon with such an internationally renowned painting. Basildon has such a rich cultural heritage with an abundance of public art and having the opportunity for us all to view this piece of national treasure is wonderful. I hope to encourage as many people as possible to visit and reflect on the story behind this painting."

Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, said: "Running the Visits tour is a highlight for us at the Gallery. It is an exciting way for us to connect with new partners all over the UK, and to be part of their outstanding work with their local communities. Through our collection we want to enrich lives by connecting art, people and ideas across centuries, countries and cultures; our partners drive the conversations about the painting and how they want to respond to it. It is always exciting to see the playful, creative and inclusive learning opportunities that grow out of these collaborations." 

Mary McMahon, Bernays Curatorial Fellow of British Paintings, said: "Constable's paintings encourage us to engage with the beauty of the countryside that surrounds us in the UK, and the role memory plays in our attachment to it. It's the perfect painting to remind everyone who sees it that wild spaces, just like great art, belong to us all."


Published 12 June 2023


Notes to editor:

John Constable is famous for his landscapes, which are mostly of the Suffolk countryside, where he was born and lived. He made many open-air sketches, using these as a basis for his large exhibition paintings, which were worked up in the studio in central London. His pictures are extremely popular today, but they were not particularly well received in England during his lifetime. Constable was born in East Bergholt, Suffolk. He was largely self-taught, and developed slowly. In 1799 he was a probationer, and in 1800 a student at the Royal Academy schools. He exhibited from 1802 at the Royal Academy in London, and later at the Paris Salon. Constable was influenced by Dutch and French artists, but the realism and vitality of Constable's work make it highly original.

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