On this day in history : 11th June 1776 – The birth of English landscape artist John Constable – who’s most famous paintings include ‘The Hay Wain’, ‘Wivenhoe Park’ and ‘Dedham Vale’….

John Constable by Daniel Gardner, 1796 – Image credit : Stephencdickson, own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

Constable was born in the village of East Bergholt, on the River Stour in Suffolk…. His father, Golding Constable, was a wealthy corn merchant and mill owner, with a modest-sized ship that he used to transport corn to London…. John Constable was the fourth child and second eldest son – and was expected to take over the family business as his older brother had a learning disability…. After finishing his schooling, firstly at boarding school in Lavenham and then day school in Dedham, Constable joined the business….

From an early age Constable had a gift for sketching and showed a keen interest in nature and the countryside around him…. His natural talent was encouraged under the guidance of local amateur artist John Dunthorne…. He was further inspired when he met another amateur artist, Sir George Beaumont, who was also a collector of paintings by the Old Masters….

Constable persuaded his father to allow him to study at the Royal Academy Schools and he enrolled in 1799…. His work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1802…. With his career now on a different path it was Constable’s younger brother who was to take over the family business….

In 1816, at the age of 40, Constable married Maria Bicknell…. The marriage was very much against the wishes of her father as Maria was a TB sufferer…. The couple lived in Hampstead as it was thought to be healthier than central London – and they also made frequent trips to Brighton so she could benefit from the sea air…. They were to have seven children….

Maria Bicknell by John Constable, 1816 : Tate Britain – Public domain

When painting Constable was always at his happiest when he was in locations known to him, especially the areas around the villages of Suffolk – East Bergholt, Dedham, Stratford St. Mary and Langham were all favourite haunts…. “I should paint my own places best”…. He also painted in Hampstead, Brighton and Salisbury – where he visited frequently on account of being good friends with the nephew of the Bishop of Salisbury….

Dedham Vale – John Constable : Victoria and Albert Museum – Public domain
Wivenhoe Park – John Constable : National Gallery of Art, Washington – Public domain

Maria died in 1828, after giving birth to their seventh child…. Constable was devastated…. The following year he was finally elected to a full membership of the Royal Academy…. His rival, William Turner, had achieved this honour much earlier in life, whilst in his 20s…. Constable gained little recognition for his work in Britain until after his death – he only sold twenty paintings in his lifetime in his own country…. He fared much better in France where in 1824 ‘The Hay Wain’ won a gold medal at The Salon, Paris…. Constable was to greatly influence the French Romantic artists…. However, he declined to travel to promote his work…. “I would much rather be a poor man in England than a rich man abroad”….

The Hay Wain : National Gallery, London – Public domain

He died on the 31st of March 1837, of what is thought to be heart failure…. He was buried with Maria in Hampstead….

Constable’s tomb – St John-at-Hampstead – Image credit : Stephencdickson CC BY-SA 4.0

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