My favourite painting: The Rt Revd Graham Usher

The Bishop of Norwich feels a deep connection with Constable’s Rainstorm over the Sea, which captures 'the sense of God's immanence'.

The Rt Revd Graham Usher on his choice: Constable’s Rainstorm over the Sea

‘New to Norfolk, I’m enjoying walking its coast and looking out to sea under big skies. The pounding of the waves on the shore rests my soul and lifts my spirits.

Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to this study, with its violent movement coming into the frame, yet holding a stillness. The strokes of the brush capture, for me, a sense of God’s immanence and transcendence in the natural world.

As I look deeply, I can hear, smell and taste the sea and sky. Delicious.’

The Rt Revd Graham Usher is the Bishop of Norwich. His new book The Way Under Our Feet: A Spirituality of Walking is published on April 16

John McEwen comments on Rainstorm over the Sea

If Constable was known only for this little seascape in oil on paper, done on the seashore as fast as the fleeting rainstorm it describes, he would still have a historical place.

From May 1824, his consumptive wife, Maria, with their four children and a maidservant, rented a house on the Brighton seafront. The town, thanks to George IV’s favour, had turned into ‘London-on-Sea’; coaches took Londoners there in a morning. Constable divided his time between his Charlotte Street studio in London and weekends with his family by the supposedly health-restoring seaside.

He had neuralgia, ‘an entire illness with me’. Remedies for Maria’s then deadly consumption (tuberculosis) abounded, including balloon ascents and sea air. ‘My poor Fish,’ Constable wrote, adding that he had tears in his eyes.

She sent him letters, assuring him she was studying skies all day. He sent her weekly journals, amateur artists seeking his opinion a particular bane: ‘“Amateurs”… the greatest enemies the living artist has.’

In July, he joined her for three months. He sat on the beach and painted sea effects, his paint-box on his knees, a coarse-grained, oil-primed sheet of paper wedged into the lid.

This picture was the masterpiece of a series of storm scenes, an appropriate subject. ‘The magnificence of the sea, and its (to use your own beautiful expression) everlasting voice,’ he wrote to his friend John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury, was the antidote to the fashionable resort of Brighton — ‘Piccadilly… by the seaside’.

Maria, having born him three more children, died in 1828. 


My Favourite Painting: Lucinda Bredin

Lucinda Bredin chooses her favourite painting for Country Life.