N02655 Maria Bicknell, Mrs John Constable Dated July 1816
Oil on canvas, 11 15/16×9 7/8 (30.3×25.1). Inscribed by the artist ‘July. 10 1816’ at left above sitter's shoulder.
Prov: Executors of Isabel Constable, sold Christie's 17 June 1892 (270, ‘Portrait of Mrs. Constable’), bt. Murry or Murray £2.2s.; ...; bequeathed by George Salting to the National Gallery 1910; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1951. Accession N02655.
Exh: Grosvenor Gallery 1889(282); Agnew's 1910(71); Tate Gallery 1937(p.38, No.96); Tate Gallery 1976(143).
Lit: Holmes 1910, pp.80–85; Shirley 1937, pp.lxxvii, 98; Davies 1946, pp.36–7; Chamot 1956, p.261; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Misc. VII(10) No.24; Hoozee 1979, No.220.
Maria Elizabeth Bicknell (1788–1828) was a daughter of Charles Bicknell, Solicitor to the Admiralty, and his second wife, Maria Elizabeth Rhudde. The latter's father, the Revd Dr Durand Rhudde, was rector of East Bergholt with Great Wenham, and also of Brantham, Suffolk, as well as a chaplain in ordinary to George III. According to Leslie (1843, p.12, 1951, p.25) it was on one of Maria Bicknell's visits to her grandfather at East Bergholt rectory, in 1800, that she and Constable first met. Not until 1809, however, did they begin to form a close attachment. Their marriage was delayed until 1816 largely because Maria's family, and especially Dr Rhudde, disapproved of their association. No.13 was painted in London on 10 July that year, shortly after the couple had decided to marry as soon as possible despite Dr Rhudde's continued opposition. A date in September was fixed on and Constable went down to East Bergholt, taking the portrait with him. In a letter to Maria from there on 28 July, he wrote: ‘I am sitting before your portrait - which when I look off the paper - is so extremely like that I can hardly help going up to it - I never had an idea before of the real pleasure that a portrait could afford - “this sweet remembrancer of one so dear” has caused no smal sensation here in a party last Thursday evng of the Bowens - the Curates &c &c - but no observations have been made excepting as to likeness - which [?Robinson] says is extreme - I know not wether it has yet reached the Rectory - but this I know that I care not - it would be foolish uselessly to irritate this old man [i.e. Dr Rhudde]’ (JCC II, p.189). On 1 August he was going to call on his friend and patron Mrs Godfrey, who was unwell: ‘she wants to see your portrait’, Constable told Maria, ‘& as she cannot come out <she> I have promised to take it to her - so that we shall have a walk in the fair together - which is an honor that perhaps you did not expect - I dont hear that its being [here] has yet reached the rectory - & if it has we cannot help it’ (JCC II, p.191: the annual fair, held in Church Street near the Constables' house, was in progress). Constable again mentioned the portrait when he wrote to Maria on 16 August: ‘I would not be without your portrait for the world the sight of it soon calms my spirit under all trouble and it is always the first thing I see in the morning and the last at night’ (JCC II, p.195). Constable and Maria Bicknell were finally married on 2 October 1816 at St Martin's-in-the-Fields, Constable's close friend John Fisher officiating. Part of their honeymoon was spent with the Fishers, also newly married, at their vicarage at Osmington on the Dorset coast. After he and Maria returned to London, Constable asked his brother Abram to send up various Paintings and other belongings which had been left behind at East Bergholt. They were eventually put on a waggon on 24 December and included, Abram wrote, ‘your good Lady's portrait ... I was obliged to get a new lid to the case, which I have screwed on, & I hope secured the valuable contents from injury, we all regretted parting with it, but for the end proposed, would make still greater sacrifices’ (JCC I, p.149).
Leslie Parris, The Tate Gallery Constable Collection, London 1981