John Constable

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He was, with Turner, the major English landscape painter of the 19th-century. He first exhibited in 1802, but achieved only limited recognition, not becoming an ARA until 1819 (RA 1829). His comment on the Suffolk countryside, 'These scenes made me a painter', takes little account of his skill in composition and his brilliant use of chiaroscuro as a unifying factor.

In 1806 he travelled in the Lake District, but he was happiest with the vivid, dewy greens of water-meadows and mills, under fresh, windy skies, his deep knowledge of which he owed, not only to his early life as a miller's son, but to the sky studies made under the influence of Luke Howard's The Climate of London (1818-20).

In 1824 his Haywain (shown at the Academy in 1821; now London, NG) and a View on the Stour were awarded a Gold Medal at the Paris Salon, and the great success of these and other works imported into France had an appreciable effect on the development of the Barbizon School, and on the painting of the Romantic Movement - Delacroix, for instance, was greatly impressed by them.

He left few successors. The greatness of his art lies in the fact that it appears to be a spontaneous and immediate transcription of the scene before him, whether in Suffolk, on the Dorset coast, at Salisbury, or on Hampstead Heath, but it is actually a deeply pondered reconstruction of nature, modified by his close study of Claude and of the tradition inherited from Dutch 17th-century landscape painters such as Ruisdael, and by his admiration for Gainsborough's view of nature, both in the early, Dutch-inspired, Cornard Wood period, and the later, poetic, Market Cart type. He was the last great painter in this tradition, except, perhaps, for Wilson Steer. After him, Turner's 'airy visions, painted with tinted steam' - the description is Constable's - and the meticulous detailing of the Pre-Raphaelites exploited different, and contradictory, attitudes to nature.

Two of his sons, John Junior and Lionel (1825-87), also painted, and some of their landscapes have become confused with their father's, although these are now being re-attributed. George Constable, an amateur of Arundel, did not disdain to profit from the accidental similarity of name.

A large collection of Constable's works was bequeathed to the V&A, London, by his daughter, and this is the touchstone for all attributions. There are other examples in Boston, Cambridge (Fitzwm), Cambridge Mass. (Fogg), Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Dublin, Dunedin NZ, Edinburgh (NG), Hartford Conn., Leeds, Le Mans, London (NG, BM, RA, Tate, Guildhall, Courtauld Inst.), Manchester, Montreal, New York (Met.Mus.), Ottawa, Oxford (Ashmolean), Philadelphia (Mus.), San Marino Cal., Toledo Ohio, Toronto, Washington (NG, Corcoran, Phillips), Worcester Mass. and Yale.



He was offered 70 for his Hay Wain to form part of an exhibition in Paris.

His ancestors were from Yorkshire.

He was the second son, born on the 11th of June 1776.

Golding Constable, the artist's father, inherited a considerable property from a rich uncle.

East Bergholt is mentioned in the Beauties of England and Wales.

He visited London for the first time in 1795.

John Dunthorne (1770-1844) a plumber and glazier, who lived in a little cottage close to the gate of Golding Constable's house, became an early painting companion. His son, John Dunthorne, Jun. (1798-1832), was to become Constable's assistant.

The great majority of paintings by Constable in the Victoria and Albert Museum were given or bequeathed by Isabel Constable, the painter's daughter, in 1888.

Three complete sketch-books (belonging to 1813, 1814 and 1835) are in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

There are in the Louvre four sketch-books by Constable (three of them c. 1806, the fourth c. 1820).

He delivered a lecture on Landscape Painting at the Hampstead Assembly Rooms in June 1833.

For about a year, Constable was employed in his father's mills.

The Grove, Hampstead was completed in about 1832.

Constable never joined in the popular cry against the architect of the National Gallery for not building a larger house than the ground given for the purpose permitted.


Hampstead, 31st March 1837

He was busily finishing his picture of Arundel Mill and Castle. One or two of his friends who called on him saw that he was not well, but they attributed this to confinement and anxiety with his picture, which was to go in a few days to the Exhibition. In the evening, he walked out for a short time on a charitable errand connected with the Artists' Benevolent Fund. He returned about nine o'clock, ate a hearty supper, and feeling chilly, had his bed warmed, a luxury he rarely indulged in. It was his custom to read in bed; between ten and eleven he had read himself to sleep, and his candle, as usual, was removed by a servant. Soon after this, his eldest son, who had been at the theatre, returned home, and while preparing for bed in the next room, his father awoke in great pain, and called to him. So little was Constable alarmed, however, that he at first refused to send for medical assistance; he took some rhubarb and magnesia, which produced sickness, and he drank copiously of warm water, which occasioned vomiting; but the pain increasing, he desired that Mr. Michele, his near neighbour, should be sent for, who very soon attended. In the meantime Constable had fainted, his son supposing he had fallen asleep; Mr. Michele instantly ordered some brandy to be brought, the bedroom of the patient was at the top of the house, the servant had to run downstairs for it, and before it could be procured, life was extinct; and within half an hour of the first attack of pain.

A post mortem investigation was made by Professor Partridge in the presence of Mr. George Young and Mr. Michele, but strange to say, the extreme pain Constable had suffered could only be traced to indigestion; no indications of disease were anywhere discovered sufficient, in the opinion of those gentlemen, to have produced at the time a fatal result.

Constable's eldest son was prevented from attending the funeral by an illness, brought on by the painful excitement he had suffered; but the two brothers of the deceased and a few of his most intimate friends followed the body to Hampstead, where some of the gentlemen residing there, who had known Constable, voluntarily joined the procession in the churchyard. The vault which contained the remains of his wife was opened and he was laid by her side.

The funeral service was read by one of those friends, the Rev. T.J. Judkin, whose tears fell fast on the book as he stood by the tomb.

By a law of the Royal Academy, works, not before exhibited, of a deceased artist are allowed to appear in the first exhibiton, and that one only, which follows his death; and Constable's picture of Arundel Mill and Castle was considered by his friends sufficiently completed to be sent to the Academy. It graced the exhibition of 1837, the first in Trafalgar Square.




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