Constable Sky

December 30, 2005


Provided by: John A. Adam, Old Dominion University
Summary authors & editors: John A. Adam

I've often thought that some paintings look like photographs. Rarely have I noticed skies that looked like paintings, but one evening in mid-November I was struck by how much this sky seemed like a painting by the English artist John Constable (1776 -1837). Constable was an amateur scientist as well as a professional painter; indeed, according to The Rainbow Bridge by Raymond Lee, Jr. and Alistair Fraser (p.80), "As lovingly as he depicted and reimagined the landscape of his boyhood Suffolk, he also devoted much energy to painting English skies...[his] cloud studies from the 1820's...are justly famous examples of artistic and meteorological insight."The sunset sky depicted here is, like every sunset, unique, but is produced by similar mechanisms each and every time: the refraction, absorption and scattering of low sunset rays through a long path in the atmosphere, in which the shorter blue and green wavelengths are absorbed or scattered out of the line of sight compared with the residual yellows and reds. The absorption is due mainly to water vapor and ozone molecules, whereas the scattering is predominantly caused by dust and aerosol particles that are smaller than the wavelengths of visible light.

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