John Constable, one of England’s prominent artists, was born to Golding and Anne Constable on the 11th June 1776, at the family home, in the picturesque village of East Bergholt, on the Suffolk/Essex border.
Golding trained John, his son in the ways of the family business, working within the mill, as it was expected of him, to follow in his father’s footsteps. But his heart was else where, for when he could, he would be found on the banks of the River Stour, transferring images, to sketch pad or canvas.
J.T.Smith a close and valued friend, gave Constable early instruction into basic drawing techniques, where his potential as an artist shone through. Golding was persuaded that John’s abilities lay in art, and should be allowed to study it professionally, leading to an acceptance at the Antique Academy in London, early in 1799.
Constable now a London resident considered his true home to be Suffolk, the home of his youth. Returning as often as he could, to the surroundings of East Bergholt, to study and sketch the area.
In 1809, Constable admitted his infatuation with Maria Bicknell had grown since his chance meeting with her at the East Bergholt Rectory, and their association, proved to be an inspiration to the young artist. Opposition to his growing attachment grew within the Bicknell home, for his profession as an artist was limited by his subject matter. His love for Maria was strong, and so he entered the world of portrait painting, in order to earn greater commissions and boost his income.
Golding Constable, John’s father died on 14th May 1816, leaving him a yearly income of £200 per annum, with the remaining estate shared between him and, his brothers and sisters. This plunged him into despair, seeing his life slipping by, so he took the initiative and married his sweetheart, Maria on 2nd October 1816 at St.Martin-in-the Fields Church.
John Charles, his first son, was born on the 4th December 1817 and was greatly spoilt, as were all the other children who followed. In all John and Maria had seven children.
Early in 1828, Maria gave birth to Lionel who was to be their last son, then quite suddenly her father died in March of that year. The death of her father, coupled with nursing her new born child, is believed to have contributed to her death on 28th November that year.
The Royal Academy elected Constable as an associate member in November 1819, but it wasn’t until February 1829, three months after the death of his beloved wife, that he was elected a full member.
Constable studied the works of the Old Masters, a practice he started in London and continued as long as he lived, comparing his and their styles alike.
Although he never lost his affection for the scenery surrounding East Bergholt, he gradually extended the subject range to include architecture and portraits, leading to greater commissions. Salisbury Cathedral was painted for Dr Fisher the then Bishop of Salisbury, a valued friend and patron of his work. Hadleigh Castle standing in ruins at the mouth of the Thames. Christ Blessing the Bread and Wine, painted for the Altar of Nayland Church.
Suddenly he died on the night of the 31st March 1837, and was buried beside his wife Maria in Hampstead. His final work, Arundel Castle and Mill never received the final touches he had intended.
Whenever we think of John Constable, the world renowned Suffolk artist, we think of his most memorable painting ‘The Haywain’ painted in 1820, the area has changed little over the years.
Sadly while he was alive he received little recognition for his work, he was only recognised long after his death. The scenes that accompanied his early years, have been witnessed by many millions the world over in appreciation of his work.
Today, a large collection of John Constable’s work can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.