John Constable

Ann Constable

c.1800–5 or ?c.1815

Not on display

John Constable 1776–1837
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 765 × 639 mm
Purchased 1984

Display caption

Constable’s mother, Ann Watts, was the daughter of a prosperous London cooper. She probably met her husband, Golding, on one of his visits to London to attend the corn market. She encouraged her son's artistic career, especially during his early years in London, and wrote to him regularly from Suffolk. This portrait probably dates from about 1800–5 when she was in her fifties. It is traditionally thought to have been painted by Constable himself. However, recent research suggests the artist may have been RR Reinagle.

Gallery label, May 2007

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Catalogue entry

John Constable 1776-1837

T03902 Ann Constable c.1800-05 or ?c.1815

Oil on canvas 765 x 639 (30 1/8 x 25 1/8)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Prov: As for T03899
Exh: John Constable, R.A., Colchester Public Library 1950-1 (28); The Constable Family - Five Generations, Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, June-Sept. 1954 (9), South London Art Gallery, Camberwell, Oct.-Nov. 1954 (12) and subsequent tour (see T03899); 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 (3, repr.); on loan to Tate Gallery 1975-84; Constable. Paintings, Watercolours & Drawings, Tate Gallery, Feb-May 1976 (IV, repr.); Constable's Country, Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, June 1976 (7)
Lit: Robert Hoozee, L'opera completa di Constable, Milan 1979, no.50, repr. Also repr: Freda Constable, John Constable, Lavenham 1975, p.49 (col.)

The artist's mother, Ann Watts (1748-1815), daughter of a London cooper, married Golding Constable (see T03901) in 1767. John Constable was the fourth of their six children.

This portrait has usually been dated to the very early years of the century and this seems consistent with the sitter's age. There is no reference to it in the artist's correspondence. Another version belongs to Colchester Borough Council (repr. Andrew Shirley, John Constable, R.A., 1944, pl.1). Less well painted, less finished (the background no more than stained canvas and the chair very sketchy) and, curiously, in reverse to T03902, this version hardly figures in the modern Constable literature (Hoozee mentions it in his entry on T03902 but doubts its authenticity). The Colchester picture did, nevertheless, come from the Constable family collection (Hugh Golding Constable, sold Sotheby's Dec. 1926, lot 149, bt P.G. Laver) and is painted on a canvas supplied by T. Brown of High Holborn, an artists' colourman certainly used by Constable. If it is a copy of T03902 by someone else, several questions need answering: why would anyone but Constable want to make such a copy, why would they go to the trouble of reversing the design and how did the picture get into the family collection. If, on the other hand, the undoubted crudity of much of the painting could be explained by it being an early work by Constable and also by the present poor condition of the picture (the face, in particular, seems to have suffered), there could be an explanation for the existence of the two portraits, one in reverse to the other. Having painted the portrait of his father, T03901 above, Constable may have decided to complement it with an image of his recently deceased mother, by copying and making more complete a portrait of her which he had painted many years before. Since Golding was already depicted facing to the left, Ann would have to be turned to face right in order to make a pair. Instead of being a copy of T03902, the Colehester picture would by this hypothesis be the original version. Viewed side by side the Tate Gallery portraits of Ann and Golding do not obviously belong to different periods, although the image of Ann looks more archaic. Constable even seems to have made a colour link between the two by echoing the pale olive-grey of Golding's waistcoat or jacket in the background of Ann's portrait, though the olive of her dress may also have suggested some such colour for the background. A more thorough examination of the Colehester picture might throw further light on the problem. For the time being T03902 is given two possible dates here, the traditional early one, c.1800-05, and a somewhat speculative c.1815.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.19-20


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