Painting Rainbows

Over my last few visits to the river I have observed some spectacular rainbows, most occurring just before sunset. 

John Constable (1776-1837), Landscape and double rainbow, 1812, oil on paper laid on canvas, 33.7 x 38.4cm, Museum no. 328-1888. Given by Isabel Constable, 1888

John Constable: Landscape and double rainbow, 1812

“The sky is the “source of light” – in nature – and governs everything.” John Constable

From my research into the Romantic Movement I know that rainbows were included in many nineteenth century paintings. In particular John Constable had an intense interest in meteorological phenomena and spent many years studying the scientific principles that underlie the rainbow. He repeatedly sought to capture the fleeting appearance of this spectacle in the summer skies. Despite having the knowledge and capability to paint the rainbow with meteorological accuracy Constable deliberately violated the laws of optics in order to allow the rainbow to serve an expressive role. How to capture light ‘prismatic colours’ with the pigments of paint has been of enduring perplexity for artists throughout history. 

I have always wanted to include a rainbow in my work as an homage to the great romantic painters. The problem is how is it possible to do this without appearing clichéd, kitsch or twee ? The answer could be in the unusual nature of the rainbow I saw.

It was more like a ball of softly diffused colour hovering just above the horizon of the hazy south bank. I belive it could have been a tropospheric rainbow, it looked like the image above. I was really stunned by this fleeting moment of natures exquisite beauty. I had never witnessed such a sight but I did not have drawing equipment or a camera so I had to commit the phenomena to my memory. Below are some sketches, my attempts at capturing the event.

Partial Rainbow  Soft Pastel

Partial Rainbow
Soft Pastel

The concept of the colours being in a ball rather than an arch has given me freedom to treat the subject as part of an abstract composition which I never would have thought of doing before.


Partial Rainbow: Grey Rain
Soft Pastel


partial Rainbow: Watercolour

Reference: John Constable, Rainbow Science, and English Color Theory, Paul D. Schweizer

About Annemarie Tickle

I am a Lecturer in Textiles at Hull School of Art and Design. As a visual artist I am interested in atmospheric conditions and events and how the scale of nature makes mans mark on the landscape look insignificant. I enjoy the act of doing and getting my hands dirty so my practice is intensly process led. I use a wide range of media but am particular interested in dying techniques.
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2 Responses to Painting Rainbows

  1. Anonymous says:

    Love rainbows!.. they feature in my work in various ways.. I like the query, What are they for?.. Do they have a purpose beyond that which we take for granted?.. etc.

    I love the concept of the spectrum sphere.. ace photo!! and you could be on to something with mileage there… Unusual, like your work.

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