The Artist John Constable

Born in 1776, the English painter John Constable was primarily known for his picturesque landscapes, especially the Dedham Vale landscapes. During his lifetime Constable found more commercial success in France; however, scholars have concluded that his work did not generate financial profit. Ironically, his paintings are regarded as some of the most valuable works of British art today.

Born in the village of East Bergholt in Suffolk along the River Stour, Constable was born to a prosperous corn merchant, Golding Constable. As John’s older brother was mentally impaired, John was groomed to take over his father’s business and educated accordingly. Golding Constable also owned a mill and small ship used for transporting corn to London. After completing his education Constable entered the corn business while his younger brother managed the mill. Yet, having spent considerable time during his youth sketching, he became determined to pursue a career in art which his father finally agreed to and helped support.

In 1799 Constable began his study at the Royal Academy School where he fell under the influence of such painters as Thomas Gainsborough and Peter Paul Rubens. He began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1803. The year before he had turned down a collegiate position as a drawing master in order to pursue his dream to work as a professional painter. Constable’s work, while highly praised today, was considered unfashionable for the age which favored highly romanticized visions of the outdoors while Constable showcased nature as it was. Simple vales, cows, fences, and streams are typical elements of his landscape paintings. Constable also painted portraits which brought in extra income but he essentially preferred his landscape work.

In 1816 Constable married Maria Bicknell. Their marriage was happy and produced many children. After giving birth to seven children Maria contracted tuberculosis and died in 1828 leaving her husband melancholy and prone to anxiety. He did, however, raise their children on his own and never remarried. In 1829 Constable became a member of the Royal Academy and began to lecture about landscape painting and proved to be a popular speaker. He frequently explained that his love of art came from painting the scenes he knew best especially where he grew up. He died in 1835 and was buried next to his wife.

Constable’s masterpieces include Dedham Vale (1802) and The Hay Wain (1821). Other important works by Constable include Cottage at East Bergholt (1831), Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows (1831), The Cornfield (1826) and Wivenhoe Park (1816). Constable is revered for the advances he made in landscape art, particularly for the attention he paid to atmospheric conditions and clouds. His paintings are collected by some of the world’s most important art museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Britain.