Constable was born at East Bergholt, Suffolk, the son of a corn and coal merchant and farmer. He devoted much of his life to painting the local landscape, the scenes of his 'careless boyhood' which, he said, 'made me a painter' (in R.B. Beckett, ed., John Constable's Correspondence, VI, Ipswich 1968, p.78). He went to work for his father in the family business about 1792. In 1794 he made a sketching tour of Norfolk. He made his first etchings in 1797. In 1799 Constable was introduced to Joseph Farington, RA, and entered the Royal Academy Schools. He visited Staffordshire and Derbyshire in 1801. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1802. He received a commission in 1805 to paint an altarpiece for the church at Brantham. He toured the Lake District in 1806. In 1810 he began work for an altarpiece for Nayland Church.
Constable began to see his future wife, Maria Bicknell (see Maria Bicknell, Mrs John Constable, 1816 Tate Gallery N02655) regularly from 1809, although they had met some years earlier. They married in 1816, despite opposition from her family, and eventually had seven children. They moved to Keppel Street, Bloomsbury, London in 1817. From 1819, because of his wife's ill health, Constable rented a house for his family at Hampstead, making about a hundred studies of cloud formations, many oil sketches of Hampstead views, and several 'finished' works on the spot (see Hampstead Heath, with the House Called 'The Salt Box', c.1819-20, Tate Gallery N01236). They lived in Joseph Farington's former house in Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury from 1822. In 1824 they began going to Brighton for reasons of Maria's health. She died of tuberculosis in 1828. In a letter to his brother Golding of 19 December, Constable wrote, 'I shall never feel again as I have felt, the face of the World is totally changed to me' (in C.R. Leslie, ed. A. Shirley, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, R.A., London 1937, p.234).
Constable exhibited regularly at the British Institution from 1808, at the Liverpool Academy 1813-14, at the Birmingham Society of Arts from 1829, and at the Worcester Institution 1834-6. He was made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1819, and a Royal Academician in 1829. The Hay-Wain (1820-1, National Gallery, London) was one of three of his works shown at the Paris Salon in 1824 and earned him a gold medal from Charles X. In 1826 he was awarded a gold medal by the Society of Fine Arts, Lille, France, following exhibits at its Salon. Friendship with the Fisher family, especially Archdeacon John Fisher, took him to Salisbury in 1811, 1820, 1823 and 1829. The first edition of English Landscape, a series of prints after his work by David Lucas, was published 1830-2. Between 1833 and 1836 Constable lectured on landscape painting at the Royal Institution, the Hampstead Literary and Scientific Society, and the Worcester Athenaeum. He visited West Sussex in 1834 and 1835. He died in Bloomsbury, and was buried in the churchyard of St John's, Hampstead.
C.R. Leslie, ed. Jonathan Mayne, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, London 1951
Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams, Constable, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1991
John Constable, (; 11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) was an English landscape painter in the naturalistic tradition. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home – now known as "Constable Country" – which he invested with an intensity of affection. "I should paint my own places best", he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, "painting is but another word for feeling".
Constable's most famous paintings include Wivenhoe Park of 1816, Dedham Vale of 1802 and The Hay Wain of 1821. Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable in British art, he was never financially successful. He became a member of the establishment after he was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of 52. His work was embraced in France, where he sold more than in his native England and inspired the Barbizon school.
Artist as subject
Film and audio
PodcastThe writer and journalist wanders along the river and explores its hidden depths
ListenAudio description of Constable’s ‘Great Salisbury’.
Tate EtcTate Etc. at Tate Britain / Artists' Perspectives
ReadExplore the painting's subjects and meaning, Constable’s materials and technique, and why he thought it was his greatest work
Art TermLandscape is one of the principal types or genres of subject in Western art
Art TermNaturalism was a broad movement in the nineteenth century which represented things closer to the way we see them
Art TermThe French term plein air means out of doors and refers to the practice of painting entire finished pictures out …
Art TermTerm in use by the early nineteenth century to describe the movement in art and literature distinguished by a new …
In FocusNew research into Constable’s brooding, dramatic and compositionally complex Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows offers an expanded context – political, religious, artistic …
Tate EtcThe EY Exhibition: Late Turner - Painting Set Free
ReadRuth Kenny's essay on The Craze for Pastel in conjunction with a 2014 BP Spotlight display at Tate Britain on …
Tate EtcA new series of In Focus displays at Tate Britain takes an in-depth look at artworks as well as items …