Catalogue entry

John Constable 1776-1837

T03903 Maria Constable with Two of her Childrenc.1820

Verso: Copy after Teniers, before c.1820 Oil on mahogany panel 166 x 221 (6 1/2 x 8 11/16)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Prov: As for T03899">T03899
Exh: John Constable, R.A., Colchester Public Library 1950-1 (31); The Constable Family - Five Generations, Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, June-Sept. 1954 (6), South London Art Gallery, Camberwell, Oct.-Nov. 1954 (3) and subsequent tour (see T03899">T03899); John Constable 1776-1837, Manchester City Art Gallery, April-June 1956 (36); Constable: The Art of Nature, Tate Gallery, June-July 1971(13); 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 (18, repr. in col.); on loan to Tate Gallery 1975-84
Lit: Robert Hoozee, L'opera completa di Constable, Milan 1979, no.400, repr.; Graham Reynolds, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven and London 1984, no.20.86, pl.210 (col.) and review by Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams, Burlington Magazine, vol.127, March 1985, p.168 under no.23.7. Also repr: Conal Shields and Leslie Parris, John Constable 1776-1837, Tate Gallery Colour Book Series, 1985, pl.14 (col.)

In this rapid sketch Constable portrays his wife Maria with two of their children, seated at a table near a window which admits enough light to illuminate their figures and immediate surroundings but leaves the rest of the room in darkness. It has been reasonably assumed that the children depicted are the Constables' eldest two, John Charles (born 4 Dec. 1817) and Maria Louisa ('Minna', born 19 July 1819), in which case a date of c.1820 would be appropriate for their apparent ages in this sketch. From 1817 to 1822 the family lived at 1 Keppel Street but from 1819 onwards also rented houses at Hampstead for the summer. It is difficult to say whether this sketch was made in the London house or in one of the Hampstead ones.

The verso is a copy by Constable of a painting attributed to David Teniers the Younger (1610-90). A label on another copy by Constable of the same painting, which he presented in January 1823 to William Dodsworth of Salisbury, records that the original Teniers belonged to Sir George Beaumont. Dodsworth's copy (private collection; Reynolds 1984, no.23.7, pl.396) is a frequent topic in Constable's and John Fisher's correspondence in 1822-3 (R.B. Beckett, ed., John Constable's Correspondence, VI, Ipswich 1968, pp.97 104, 105, 106, 110, 141; L. Parris, C. Shields, I. Fleming-Williams, eds., John Constable: Further Documents and Correspondence, London and Ipswich 1975, pp.118, 120). Constable said he had 'grimed it down with slime & soot - as he is a connoisseur and of course prefers filth & dirt, to freshness & beauty'. Dodsworth was reported to be 'hugeously delighted' with the result.

The original Teniers is not known today. Another version of it, presumably a copy, was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York but was de-accessioned in 1982 (Katharine Baetjer, European Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1980, I, p.182, no.89.15.26 as 'Landscape with Two Men and a Dog', III, p.385, repr.; the compiler is indebted to Professor Charles Rhyne for drawing this version to his attention).

We do not know when Constable made the Teniers copy now regarded as the verso of T03903. It is probable, however, that it was painted before the portrait sketch and formed the original recto of the panel. Great though his admiration was for certain old masters, Constable's love of his family was still greater and he seems unlikely to have turned so intimate a record face down in order to copy a Teniers. It can be argued, therefore, that the Teniers copy dates from before c.1820.

Other copies by Constable and his protégés of the same Teniers may have existed. There are references in September and October 1821 to a 'little copy of Tenniers' by Constable which Dorothea Fisher was copying and which Constable wanted to lend to D.C. Read to copy when she had finished with it (Beckett VI 1968, pp.74, 78). If the subject was the same as the one seen in T03903, Constable had presumably lent out another copy since T03903 itself would probably already have been re-used for the portrait sketch and it seems unlikely that Constable would have let this go the rounds of the Salisbury amateurs and drawing masters. In July 1824 Constable borrowed 'the Teniers' from Sir George Beaumont along with other pictures, apparently for safekeeping while Beaumont was out of town (R.B. Beckett, ed., John Constable's Correspondence, II, Ipswich 1964, p.356). As with the 1821 references, we cannot be sure that the subject was the same as the one copied in T03903. Beaumont is known also to have owned a 'Landscape with Cattle and Figures' (according to the 1933 probate list at the death of the 11th baronet: kindly communicated by Felicity Owen) and may have had other landscapes by him as well.

For other portraits by Constable of Maria, see T03900">T03900.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.20-1