Artist biography

Constable was born at East Bergholt, Suffolk, the son of a corn and coal merchant and farmer. He devoted much of his life to painting the local landscape, the scenes of his 'careless boyhood' which, he said, 'made me a painter' (in R.B. Beckett, ed., John Constable's Correspondence, VI, Ipswich 1968, p.78). He went to work for his father in the family business about 1792. In 1794 he made a sketching tour of Norfolk. He made his first etchings in 1797. In 1799 Constable was introduced to Joseph Farington, RA, and entered the Royal Academy Schools. He visited Staffordshire and Derbyshire in 1801. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1802. He received a commission in 1805 to paint an altarpiece for the church at Brantham. He toured the Lake District in 1806. In 1810 he began work for an altarpiece for Nayland Church.

Constable began to see his future wife, Maria Bicknell (see Maria Bicknell, Mrs John Constable, 1816 Tate Gallery N02655) regularly from 1809, although they had met some years earlier. They married in 1816, despite opposition from her family, and eventually had seven children. They moved to Keppel Street, Bloomsbury, London in 1817. From 1819, because of his wife's ill health, Constable rented a house for his family at Hampstead, making about a hundred studies of cloud formations, many oil sketches of Hampstead views, and several 'finished' works on the spot (see Hampstead Heath, with the House Called 'The Salt Box', c.1819-20, Tate Gallery N01236). They lived in Joseph Farington's former house in Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury from 1822. In 1824 they began going to Brighton for reasons of Maria's health. She died of tuberculosis in 1828. In a letter to his brother Golding of 19 December, Constable wrote, 'I shall never feel again as I have felt, the face of the World is totally changed to me' (in C.R. Leslie, ed. A. Shirley, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, R.A., London 1937, p.234).

Constable exhibited regularly at the British Institution from 1808, at the Liverpool Academy 1813-14, at the Birmingham Society of Arts from 1829, and at the Worcester Institution 1834-6. He was made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1819, and a Royal Academician in 1829. The Hay-Wain (1820-1, National Gallery, London) was one of three of his works shown at the Paris Salon in 1824 and earned him a gold medal from Charles X. In 1826 he was awarded a gold medal by the Society of Fine Arts, Lille, France, following exhibits at its Salon. Friendship with the Fisher family, especially Archdeacon John Fisher, took him to Salisbury in 1811, 1820, 1823 and 1829. The first edition of English Landscape, a series of prints after his work by David Lucas, was published 1830-2. Between 1833 and 1836 Constable lectured on landscape painting at the Royal Institution, the Hampstead Literary and Scientific Society, and the Worcester Athenaeum. He visited West Sussex in 1834 and 1835. He died in Bloomsbury, and was buried in the churchyard of St John's, Hampstead.

Further reading:
C.R. Leslie, ed. Jonathan Mayne, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, London 1951
Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams, Constable, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1991

Terry Riggs
January 1998