The Use of Nature and the Natural World in Works from Constable and Buson

Essay by yns1991High School, 11th gradeA+, April 2009

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Throughout the entire history of art, whether in the European tradition or outside of it, nature was a subject that was constantly explored by artists. Naturalistic paintings were used to portray different emotional themes or add to the mood of a painting. British artist John Constable’s The Haywain and Cuckoo Flying over New Verdure by Yosa Buson, a Japanese artist, both feature very simple naturalistic settings. In The Haywain (pg. 839, Slide 28-53), Constable illustrates his perceived oneness between man and his surroundings. In Cuckoo Flying over New Verdure (pg. 789, Slide 27-10), Buson, a Japanese artist, personalizes the Chinese literati style as one way to illustrate his innate lyric style. Both works use the natural world to portray these themes.

Constable is considered one of the top English landscape paintings of the Romantic period. Born in 1776, Constable believed that “painting is but another word for feeling.”

In The Haywain, painted in 1821 with oil on canvas, Constable shows the natural world in England at its finest. The sky is filled with puffy clouds, lazily floating across the stream. On the left is a small cottage and trees as a man leads a horse and wagon slowly across the stream. The subtle colors and shimmering light create an aesthetically pleasing picture. In The Haywain as is the case in much of Constable’s work, human forms seem to blend in with the naturalistic background. This is significant because it directly illustrates one of Constable’s artistic themes, a blend between humans and nature. Moreover, The Haywain is significant due to the side of England that Constable does not depict, the civil unrest of the agrarian working class. The painting has an entirely nostalgic and wistful air to it as only the most beautiful part of England’s countryside is shown.

One key aspect of Constable’s The Haywain is the aim for realism and accuracy in depicting the natural world. By accurately depicting nature in this landscape, Constable’s theme of unity between man and nature is realized. The painting’s mood is serene and the human figures appear to be part of the simple background. Unlike his contemporaries during the Romantic period, Constable does not choose to depict heroic actions of men or present complex, symbolic themes. All human forms blend peacefully into the painting’s real focus, the serenity and peacefulness of nature. Thus, Constable uses a beautiful environmental setting to address the theme of tranquil harmony between humans and nature.

In Cuckoo Flying over New Verdure, a hanging scroll created with ink and color on silk, by Yosa Buson, the artist uses the Chinese literati style to merge his scholarship and poetry with the naturalistic art that he produced. Literati, a style that originated in China but was brought to Japan in the late 17th century, was typically practiced by highly-skilled artists who were usually wealthy and highly educated. This work signified social status and refined taste. In Japan, artists who practiced literati usually held positions in the bureaucracy that governed the country or were renowned scholars who, in addition to art, studied philosophy, meditation, literature, or science. Yosa Buson, the artist who created the literati painting, Cuckoo Flying Over New Verdure, was a master writer in haiku, a form of poetry that is still prevalent today. Buson’s poetic abilities gave rise a lyric style that was evident in his art.

Although Buson imitated the Chinese literati, his style was greatly different from that of the Chinese masters. In Cuckoo Flying over New Verdure, created in the late 18th century, Buson formed a landscape using fine fibrous brush strokes and dense foliage patterns. Buson’s touch was bolder than that of the Chinese masters, and his use of pale colors was very much his own. This work is a very simple representation of nature. Its beauty is in its subtle use of color and form. Restrained artistic representation was one theme in all of Buson’s works. As a master of haiku, a poetic form of only 17 syllables, Buson had the lyric ability to present in his message in just a few words. In Cuckoo Flying over New Verdure, Yosa Buson applied the same ideas used in his poetry to painting a beautiful literati work. Clearly, the pervading theme of the work is the beauty and simplicity of nature.

The portrayal of the natural world was vital to the works of Constable and Buson. Although The Haywain mainly paints a picture of the natural world, the human theme of oneness with nature is still present due to Constable’s accurate presentation of the picturesque English countryside. Buson’s Cuckoo Flying over New Verdure has no direct human theme, but it is instead a testament to the beauty of a serene forest and mountain. Despite the fact that the two works do not share a common theme, both use the natural world to display the aesthetic beauty of their respective countries. For both artists, this visual beauty is the most important thing that viewers should take away from their works.

BibliographyBuson, Yosa. Cuckoo Flying over New Verdure. Late 18th century. Hiraki Ukiyo-e Museum, YokohamaConstable, John. The Haywain. 1821. National Gallery, London