Cottage At East Bergholt – John Constable (Lady Lever Art Gallery)

Perhaps it may be considered misleading to write this article as part of Art in Liverpool but it would seem that keeping strictly to Liverpool City Centre would mean missing out some of the best art available to see locally.  Over the water on the Wirral side, two beautiful art galleries are housed in between the rustling green trees and quaint village streets.  The Lady Lever Art Gallery is one of these and it is here where our painting this week lies.

The village of Port Sunlight, which houses the gallery at the heart of its grade one listed mini metropolis, is worth a visit alone for its stunning preservation of an English country village.  It’s so picture postcard that it’s half expected there’ll be cricket at lunch and afternoon tea in the pavilion every day of the year.  Along with the rest of the village, the gallery was built by Lord Leverhulme as a gift for his wife.  He then proceeded to fill it to the brim with the most beautiful art work and cultural treasure he could find.

This weeks painting is one of those but it’s a testament to Lord Leverhulme’s passion that the collection is probably the biggest and most respected collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the country.  However John Constable’s Cottage at East Bergholt does not fit with this ethos.  The painting stands out vividly among the William Holman Hunt’s and the Frederic Lord Leighton’s of which there are many.

Cottage at East Bergholt is an atmospheric examination of the English countryside and by being such a dark and foreboding take on the Suffolk broads it catches the eye in a room largely full of warm and safe paintings.  There has clearly been some sort of storm, perhaps representing the artist’s later life and the clouds speak volumes, telling of powerful natural forces and the dominance of the rain.

The miniscule man made cottage in the painting is trying its best to hide away from the natural barrage that the storm is creating and even appears to be waning under the stress in a way so many artists do physically when creating their work.  The beautiful green landscape is in disarray and the usual tidy fields so often found in Constable’s work are knifed violently into the painting, even suggesting a mythical power of unimaginable strength moulding the landscape as it sees fit.

In the middle of it all is stood a poor workhorse, stuck out in the cold and waiting for the storm to come.  As a simple landscape painting it’s a work of stark observation and emotional capture on a scale that is rarely bettered in the field.  As a piece of art, Cottage as East Bergholt can be seen a powerful piece of observation but at the same time can also be seen as a beautifully personal painting by an artist so clearly in love with his surroundings.

Cottage at East Bergholt is on permanent display at The Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Adam Scovell

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