John Constable

Golding Constable

1815

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 759 x 632 mm
frame: 940 x 815 x 80 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1984
Reference
T03901

Display caption

This portrait depicts the artist's father who was the son of a farmer. In 1764 Golding inherited valuable property and land in the parish of East Bergholt from his uncle Abram, a successful corn merchant. This included the tenancy of the corn milling business of Flatford Mill on the river Stour. The business prospered under Golding’s direction, and by 1785 he was described by another miller as ‘a man of fortune’ who ‘lives in the style of a country squire’. This portrait is thought to date from 1815, when Golding was already in his seventies, although he looks considerably younger.

Gallery label, May 2007

Catalogue entry

John Constable 1776-1837

T03901 Golding Constable 1815

Oil on canvas 759 x 632 (29 7/8 x 24 7/8)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Prov: As for T03899
Exh: John Constable, R.A., Colchester Public Library 1950-1 (29); The Constable Family - Five Generations, Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, June-Sept. 1954 (8), South London Art Gallery, Camberwell, Oct-Nov. 1954 (13) and subsequent tour (see T03899); John Constable 1776-1837, Manchester City Art Gallery, April-June 1956 (19); John Constable: The Natural Painter, Auckland City Art Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Sept. 1973-Jan. 1974 (4, repr.); on loan to Tate Gallery 1975-84; Constable: Paintings, Watercolours & Drawings, Tate Gallery, Feb.-May 1976 (III, repr.); Constable's Country, Gainsborough 's House, Sudbury, June 1976 (6)
Lit: Robert Hoozee, L'opera completa di Constable, Milan 1979, no.217, repr. Also repr: Freda Constable, John Constable, Lavenham 1975, p.61 (col.)

Golding Constable (1739-1816), the artist's father, was a prosperous Suffolk merchant with interests chiefly in corn and coal. At the time of his death his property included two cornmills on the river Stour, at Flatford and Dedham, a yard for building barges at Flatford, a wharf downstream at Manningtree, a vessel for making shipments to and from London, farmland, property, a windmill at East Bergholt and East Bergholt House, the family home in the village, which he built when the mill-house at Flatford became too small.

The only portrait of his father documented in Constable's correspondence is one begun in May 1815, a year before Golding's death. His wife had died at the end of March and Golding had been in poor health. Nevertheless, Constable was able to tell Maria Bicknell on 21 May: 'I find my father uncommonly well, which has tempted me to begin a portrait of him - he is pleased and makes quite an amusement of it. It promises to be quite the best that I have done, which I am very glad of (R. B. Beckett, ed., John Constable's Correspondence, II, Ipswich 1964, pp.140-1). It has usually been assumed that T03901 is the portrait in question. Golding perhaps looks younger and in better health than one might expect for a man in his mid-seventies who had recently suffered bereavement and illness ('My late loss brought me almost to the grave', he wrote on 6 May) but as he appeared 'uncommonly well' towards the end of May, the identification is probably acceptable. Constable's reference to the 1815 portrait as promising to be 'quite the best that I have done' may suggest that he was comparing it in his mind with an earlier portrait of his father, perhaps the one now at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich (Hoozee 1979, no.52, repr.). The latter certainly looks earlier in style, although the sitter does not appear much younger. He may, however, simply have meant that it was the best portrait he had painted of anyone. No other portraits by Constable of his father are known.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.18-19