John Constable

Date/place of birth

June 11, 1776, East Bergholt, United Kingdom

Day/place of death

March 31, 1837, London, United Kingdom

John Constable enriched the detailed naturalism of his landscape paintings with a romantically coloured view of the sky. As the son of a family of millers, the English painter had an eye for wind and weather, the moods of which he captured and recorded in a masterly way.

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John Constable – Rather a career as an artist than manager of his father’s cornmill

John Constable was born on 11 June 1776 in East Bergholt in the English county of Suffolk. The fourth of six children, he grew up in sheltered circumstances and received a good schooling. Due to his elder brother’s mental incapacity, John Constable was expected to be his father’s successor and therefore worked in the family cornmill once he had finished school. His tendancy towards art did not dissipate, however, and eventually led him to London with the consent of his parents where he entered the Royal Academy in 1799 as probationer and attended the anatomy and still life classes there. His younger brother overtook the management of his father’s business. Despite his short-term studies, John Constable remained largely self-taught as a painter, imitating the old masters, and orienting himself to artists such as Annibale Caracci, Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Gainsborough, Jacob van Ruisdael and Claude Lorrain. 

Marriage and artistic breakthrough against much opposition

In 1802, John Constable declined a teaching post at the Great Marlow Military College, and in the opinion of Benjamin West – director of the Royal Academy at the time – jeopardised his career as an artist. Despite this opposition, Constable established himself as a painter and that same year, opened his first exhibition and acquired a studio in his native town of East Bergholt. His deep love for the twelve-years-younger civil servant’s daughter Maria Bicknell was sincerely reciprocated, but met with declared resistance from the bride’s family who refused their consent as long as the artist did not have a financially solid ground. The sudden death of his parents one after another brought Constable an inheritance which enabled the longed-for marriage. There began a happy period for the painter: His wife bore him seven children and his landscape paintings met with great resonance. He became an associate member of the Royal Academy, and was awarded a Gold Medal by the French Emperor. Constable was a significant influence on the famous Barbizon School in France with his paintings. 

Masterly landscapes and cloudy skies

John Constable was badly affected by the early and unexpected death of his wife from tuberculosis. From then on, he wore only black clothes, looked after his seven children alone, and often suffered from depression and melancholy. However, he still continued to create impressive atmospheric paintings that increased his fame as a painter and made him the most important English painter alongside William Turner. His masterful, dramatic depictions of clouds, in particular, fascinated a growing audience. John Constable painted religious motifs only three times – the artistic value of these works is generally much less appreciated by connoisseurs than the magnificent landscape paintings of the famous Romantic. They were commission works that earned Constable a respectable sum of money by the standards of the time. 

John Constable died on 31 March 1837 in London.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz