John Constable Biography
- Full Name:
- John Constable
- Short Name:
- Date of Birth:
- 11 Jun 1776
- Date of Death:
- 31 Mar 1837
- Oil, Watercolor
- Art Movement:
- East Bergholt, United Kingdom
John Constable is often thought of as one of the most important painters of the English countryside that ever lived, but he was actually more successful in France during his lifetime.
Born and raised in Suffolk, the artist never left England to work and discarded what could have been a comfortable life running the family business in order to pursue his passion for art.
John Constable was born in East Bergholt, a village on the River Stour in Suffolk, in 1776. His father was a wealthy corn merchant, owner of Flatford Mill in East Bergholt and, later, Dedham Mill. John was the second son of Golding and Ann Constable but as his elder brother was mentally handicapped, it was left to John to carry on the family business after his father.
Constable spent a short amount of time studying at a boarding school at Lavenham, before returning home and enrolling at a day school in Dedham. Constable's younger brother eventually took over the family business but not without the artist first gaining some experience. This knowledge no doubt influenced Constable in his paintings of the corn industry in rural Suffolk later in life.
Constable's first forays into art began as sketches of the Suffolk countryside as a boy, an area that would feature in his art for the rest of his life. He wrote of the county: "(Suffolk) made me a painter, and I am grateful".
As a young boy Constable would draft endless sketches of the Suffolk countryside which so inspired him and often went "Skying" which was the artist's own term for days spent sketching different cloud formations.
When Constable was a young man he was introduced to a collector named George Beaumont and this meeting would prove to be highly important in the development of Constable's career as an artist.
Beaumont showed Constable his prized Landscape with Hagar and the Angel by Claude Lorrain. Lorrain's influence on Constable is clear to see in his paintings and he was considered by many to be the most accomplished landscape painter pre-19th century.
Another great influence for Constable was trained artist John Thomas Smith who he was introduced to while visiting relatives. Smith advised him on painting but also urged him to remain in his father's business rather than take up art professionally.
Luckily for the art world Constable chose to ignore this advice and in 1803, he was exhibiting his first paintings at the Royal Academy.
Constable married Maria Bicknell on October 1816 at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Between the two a childhood friendship had blossomed into a romantic attachment, however, their engagement was opposed by Maria's grandfather, Dr. Rhudde, who threatened Maria with disinheritance after finding Constable to be socially and monetarily inferior.
It wasn't until the death of Constable's father that the artist received an allowance which meant the two lovers could support themselves and marry.
Although he chose not to take on other employment, Constable did not sell a painting until The White Horse in 1819. This success lead to a series of "six footers", as he referred to his large-scale paintings.
In 1821 Constable showed The Hay Wain at the Royal Academy's exhibition and was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy that same year. This recognition did not mean that Constable was accepted as a great painter in England. In fact, quite the opposite; his loose style of painting and devotion to nature lead to much criticism.
It was in France that Constable first made his name as a painter. A show in Paris led to the French King, Charles X awarding the artist the Gold Medal of the exhibition and Constable's work began to influence artists in the city such as Delacroix and Corot.
Although Constable was so hugely successful in France, he never travelled outside of his native England.
After the birth of her seventh child in January 1828, Constable's wife Maria fell ill and died of tuberculosis at the age of forty-one. From that point onwards Constable chose to always dress in black and was, according to one friend, "a prey to melancholy and anxious thoughts". The artist never remarried and cared for his seven children alone for the rest of his life.
At the age of 52 Constable was elected into the Royal Academy and in 1831 he was given the title of Visitor at the Royal Academy. Constable was always outspoken in his beliefs and art was a subject he was particularly passionate about. He spoke against the new Gothic Revival movement, which he considered mere "imitation".
In 1835, Constable gave his last lecture to the students of the Royal Academy, in which he praised Raphael and deemed the Royal Academy the "cradle of British art".
Constable died on the night of the 31st March, 1837 apparently from indigestion, and was buried with Maria in the graveyard of St John-at-Hampstead in London.