John Constable

East Bergholt House


On loan

Villa Vauban (Luxembourg City, Luxembourg): Constable and England: A History of His Affections

John Constable 1776–1837
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 225 × 686 mm
frame: 369 × 827 × 65 mm
Presented by Miss Isabel Constable 1887

Display caption

Constable was deeply attached to his birthplace, East Bergholt House, which his father had built when Flatford Mill became too small for his growing family. Although the house no longer exists (it was pulled down in 1840 or 1841), the stable block and an outbuilding survive. Constable painted views from the front and back of the house on many occasions and chose it as the frontispiece for English Landscape (1832). He wrote in the accompanying inscription: ‘This place was the origin of my Fame’.

Gallery label, May 2007

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Catalogue entry

N01235 East Bergholt House Circa 1809

Oil on canvas, 8 7/8×27 (22.6×68.8).

Prov: presented by Isabel Constable to the National Gallery 1887; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1897. Accession N01235.
Exh: Tate Gallery 1937 (p.14, No.17); Biennale, Venice 1938 (Sala 12, No.14); Richard Wilson and his Circle, City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham 1948–9(152) and Tate Gallery 1949(149); Manchester 1956(13); Tate Gallery 1976(VII).
Lit: Holmes 1902, p.241; Shirley 1937, p.36; Chamot 1956, p.258; Beckett 1961, Paintings: Suffolk B(2) No.2; Hoozee 1979, No.89.

Golding Constable, the artist's father, built East Bergholt House in Church Street, East Bergholt when Flatford Mill became too small for his growing family. He acquired the tenancy of the plot in 17721 and, according to Leslie (1843, p.2, 1951, p.2), moved his family to the new house in 1774. Two years later John Constable was born there.

The house no longer exists but the artist's brother Abram described it in some detail in a draft advertisement for its sale after Golding's death: ‘To be sold in the delightful pleasant village of East Bergholt, a Capital Brick Mansion Freehold, with about 37 Acres of Land, pasture an arrable in excellent condition, communicating with excellent roads- The Mansion consists of 4 very good rooms & spacious entrance hall on the ground floor, 4 excellent Sleeping Rooms, with light clossets & spacious landing on the second floor, <& the Same> 4 exceeding good atticks, most capital cellars & offices, Brick Stables & Coachhouse, & every convenience that can be thought of--&c.’ (JCC I, p.136). The house was sold to a family friend, Walter Clerk of East Bergholt, and was vacated by the Constables after a sale of the contents in March 1819. Clerk died on 26 October 1839. The following summer Leslie visited the area and found the house untenanted (Leslie 1845, p.313, 1951, p.285). It was pulled down soon afterwards. In 1841 Edward Cook, estate agent of Stratford St Mary, sold the site to Edward Godfrey of Old Hall, East Bergholt. The deed of transfer, 2 dated 25 November that year, refers to ‘the Mansion-house late of the said Walter Clerk and since of the said Edward Cook but now pulled down and wasted’. The document includes a plan which shows only the stable block and one other outbuilding still standing. These survive today in altered form, the stables having been converted into houses and the other outbuilding incorporated in a later house. The long wall which separated the stables from the Constables' flower garden, and the gate-posts and railings on the street side, also remain.

Constable painted and drew his father's house on many occasions. Other oil studies of the back of the house; the side seen in No.6, are in the V. & A. (Fig. 1, r. 102, h. 90)3 and the collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia (Fig. 2, h.91).4. The V.&A. example is dated circa 1811 by Reynolds because of its supposed similarity to another V.&A. sketch bearing that date (r. 101, ‘A village fair at East Bergholt’). No.6 may well be earlier. Its subdued colour and handling relate more closely to the ‘Epsom’ and ‘Malvern Hall’ of 1809 (Nos 4–5 above) than to the studies of 1810–11, which are generally more lively (see, for example, tg 1976 Nos 92–6, 102).

Pencil drawings of the back of the house, seen from a distance, are in the 1813 sketchbook (V. &.A., r. 121, p.30) and the collections of Richard Constable (tg 1976 No.161: 27 Oct. 1818) and H.A.E. Day (Day 1976, pl.23:2 Aug. 1812). Drawings of the front are also in the 1813 sketchbook (r. 121, p.34, 19 July, and p.37); other drawings of this side of the house include V. &.A., R. 133 (2–3 Oct. 1814) and Courtauld Institute, Witt Collection No.2679A.

Just as important to Constable were the views to be had from the house. His treatments of the view from the back, looking across the fields to the windmill and the Rectory, are the most interesting of these (see tg 1976 Nos.26, 93, 120, 128, 134–5). Two of them, the Ipswich ‘Golding Constable's Flower Garden’ and the related V.&A. drawing (r.176), enable us to work out roughly where Constable was when he painted No.6. The large clump of trees beyond the threshing-barn in the Ipswich painting (Fig. 35) is the same one depicted from the other side in No.6, though the small white gable in the latter can hardly be the end of the wooden barn and is more likely to belong to one of the cottages to the left of it in the Ipswich picture. Between the house and the clump of trees in No.6 the roof of the stables with its distinctive lantern is clearly visible. The large poplar tree behind the stables was first painted slightly more to the right and was originally taller. Other pentimenti are also visible.

Views from the front of the house include an oil study in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (No.105, h.131), showing the drive down to one of the gates on Church Street and part of West Lodge (home of Constable's friend Mrs Roberts) on the other side of the street, two views of East Bergholt fair (V.&A., r.101, h.130, and by night, Private Collection6) and sketches of West Lodge at the Yale Center for British Art (h.94) and in another private collection (h.95). A further study of West Lodge (h.163) shows the hatchment painted by John Dunthorne senior which was placed on the house following Mrs Roberts' death in December 1811. In 1824 Dunthorne junior made Mary Constable, the artist's sister, ‘a pretty picture of the “dear old House”’, i.e. East Bergholt House (JCC I, p.209), but this has yet to be identified.

Just how much his birthplace meant to Constable can be judged from his choice of the house as the frontispiece subject for English Landscape (Fig. 4, Shirley 1930, No.277). Published in 1832 (though lettered 1831), the plate was captioned with latin verses which Fisher had earlier translated as:

This spot saw the day spring of my Life,
Hours of Joy, and years of Happiness,

This place first tinged my boyish fancy
with a love of the art,

This place was the origin of my Fame.

(see tg 1976, under No.274)

A view of the back of the house was used on this occasion. The original painting or drawing engraved by Lucas has not been found but a pen sketch of a variant design for the Frontispiece, showing the back of the house from a greater distance and a different angle, is in the collection of Dr and Mrs W. Katz (tg 1976 No.273). In the text composed to accompany Lucas' plate, Constable wrote: ‘Perhaps the Author with an over-weening affection for these scenes may estimate them too highly, and may have dwelt too exclusively upon them; but interwoven as they are with his thoughts, it would have been difficult to have avoided doing so; besides, every recollection associated with the Vale of Dedham must always be dear to him, and he delights to retrace those scenes, “where once his careless childhood strayed”, among which the happy years of the morning of his life were passed’ (Shirley 1930, pp.264–5).

1. See Court book, Manor of Old Hall, East Bergholt (Suffolk Records Office, Ipswich, ha6: 51/4/4.3, pp.61–2). The tenancy to which Golding Constable was admitted on 8 July 1772 is not described precisely but its history can be traced in the Court records back to William Baker, who is named as the tenant of the land later occupied by Golding Constable on Brasier's map, ‘A Survey of the Parish of East Bergholt’, of 1731 (Suffolk Records Office, Ipswich, fb/191/A8/1). I am indebted to Ian Fleming-Williams for these references.

2. In the possession of John and Susan Thornton.

3. Oil on millboard, laid on panel, 7 1/8×19 7/8 (18.1×50.5).

4. No.1069. Oil on canvas, 5 1/4×10 (14.6×25.4). A further painting of East Bergholt House seen from this side was sold at Sotheby's on 26 June 1968(33) and 19 July 1978(67) but it is of doubtful authenticity.

5. Oil on canvas, 13×20 (33×50.8). tg 1976 No.134, h.212.

6. Reproduced in the catalogue of the exhibition Constable's Country, Gainsborough's House, Sudbury 1976, No.33.

7. Mezzotint, size of image 5 1/2×7 5/16 (14×18.6).

Published in:
Leslie Parris, The Tate Gallery Constable Collection, London 1981

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