Sketch of a baby (probably Minna Constable) by John Constable 1819 - V&A
John Constable was father to three daughters, two of whom survived into adulthood
Maria Louisa (Minna) 1819-1855
Maria Louisa (“Minna”) was John Constable’s first daughter and second child. Minna attended Miss Sophia Noble’s School in Hampstead where she learnt music and dancing. She enjoyed reading romantic stories which Constable’s friend, John Fisher thought ‘morbid’. By giving her a prayer book to read instead, her father failed dismally in his efforts to stop her reading those romantic stories!
Minna was nine when in 1828 her mother died. She immediately stepped into her mother’s shoes, teaching her younger brothers and sisters to read and write as well as occasionally collecting insects for her brother Charley. John Constable relied on Minna and loved her dearly. In 1831 he wrote of her: “She is so orderly in all her plans, and so full of method, so lady-like by nature and so firm and yet so gentle that you cannot believe the influence this heavenly little monitor has on this whole house, but most of all on me, who watch all her dear ways with mingled smiles and tears.” (letter written in 1831 from John Constable to his friend and biographer CR Leslie)
In the spring of 1832, Minna now aged twelve, became seriously ill with a severe cold and sore throat and Constable feared for her life and that of his other children.
He wrote: “My dear child is alarmingly ill, her pulse today is 150 … God knows how this will terminate. I am very anxious for the two other little dears (Charles and John) who must remain at school it not having been advisable to have them home … all our endeavour is to keep this most cruel disorder out of the way of my boys”. (note written in 1832 by John Constable to his friend and biographer CR Leslie).
To John Constable’s enormous relief Minna recovered and remained at the centre of her father’s life and his family. She did not marry and died aged sixty five.
Isabel Constable 1822-1888
Isabel was John Constable’s second daughter and fourth child. Little is known about Isabel except that along with her sisters, she attended Miss Sophia Noble’s school in Hampstead and learnt handwriting, piano, dancing and comportment.
On a trip to Dedham with her father and sisters, Isabel brought along a kitten from the family home in Hampstead which she had hidden in her bonnet.
Isabel did not marry, outlived her siblings and died in 1888, aged 66.
She bequeathed 95 Constable oil paintings and sketches, 297 drawings and watercolours and three sketchbooks to the South Kensington Museum. She did this in her own name, on behalf of her sister Maria Louisa and her brother Lionel Bicknell. The same year, she also made smaller gifts of her father’s work to the British Museum, the Royal Academy and the National Gallery.
Emily by John Constable 1834 owned by Courtauld Institute
Emily was John Constable’s third daughter, fifth child.
Emily was born prematurely and shared her birthday with her brother Charles Golding (Charley).
She caught scarlet fever in 1839 and died aged fourteen. At this time, scarlet fever killed more children in Britain than any other disease.
Only the location of two sketches shown on this page is known. The Courtauld Institute owns the sketches of the baby at the top of this page and of Emily on the sofa at the bottom – find out more about them by clicking on the links below:
- Emily lying on a sofa, reading
- Sketch of a baby 1819 (probably Maria)
- The whereabouts of the pencil sketches of Maria (Minna) and Isabel above are not known
All the sketches on this page are by John Constable.