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The Drinking Boy

by Chris Watson

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Chris Watson - The Drinking Boy (John Constable)

Constable is renowned as one of Britain’s greatest landscape artists. He is known principally for his paintings of Dedham Vale, Suffolk, England, the area where he grew up and now known as “Constable Country”. Never commercially successful in England, when his painting ‘The Hay Wain’ was exhibited in Paris in 1821 it was highly praised and admired. His work greatly influenced the Barbizon school of painters and the French impressionists of the late 19th century.

On April 8th 1826, Constable sent a large landscape to the Royal Academy. This painting portrayed cornfields, a country lane bordered by trees and a young shepherd with his sheep. Constable referred to it familiarly as ‘The Drinking Boy’: we know it as ‘The Cornfield’, one of his most famous works.

On Friday 14th May 2010 at The National Gallery, London, Chris presented and performed his soundtrack for the painting “The Cornfield” by John Constable.

“Musician and leading wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson discussed the sounds of wildlife and weather in The Cornfield and the changes in sound pollution since Constable’s time. He will end with a performance of the piece he has written in response to this painting for the new Sounds of the Gallery Tour.”

Chris writes: “Gazing through the woodland and out into the cornfield creates for me a wonderful and seductive sense of perspective. The mature trees frame a pastoral scene which is in turn bridged by clouds.

I can hear birdsong billowing from the leaf cover and a great spotted woodpecker drumming on the trunk of a skeletal tree which temporarily distracts the Border collie from it’s herding duties. Unseen and almost unheard a freshwater spring bubbles into the drinking pool, a resource that is shared by animals and people alike on days such as this. From behind, a gushing breeze ripples through the tree canopy and out across open fields where ripe corn heads swish and sigh on dry stems, their slow rhythm accompanying a skylark singing from high above, a pin point of silver sound lost to all sight, in a pewter sky.

In the early 19th Century Constable could not only see into the distance but also hear it. From his memory no doubt the warm song of a yellowhammer and drifting tones and the church clock would carry far in the humid air. Noise pollution was yet to reach rural Suffolk revealing a quality of sound that has, like the landscape, passed into history.”

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released July 18, 2018

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Chris Watson UK

Chris Watson is one of the world's leading recorders of wildlife and natural phenomena, and for Touch he edits his field recordings into a filmic narrative.

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