John was born in 1776, the fourth child of Ann and Golding Constable. When his older brother proved unfit to take over the family business, John was employed in his father’s mills to learn his trade.
According to his first biographer, Constable was known in the neighbourhood as the ‘handsome miller’, being ‘tall and well formed … with a fresh complexion, and fine dark eyes’. By 1799, his father allowed him to study art in London, and he entered the Royal Academy Schools. This drawing, made in 1806, is generally recognised as one of the finest portraits of the artist.