painting of John Constable as an old man by Ruth Richmond (2015) after Daniel Maclisse

John Constable as a old man

Painting by Ruth Richmond after Daniel Maclisse

Constable turned 60 on 11 June 1836. His children were doing well – his older son John Charles had passed his chemistry exam and his sailor son, Charley had returned on shore leave and departed on another voyage.  Emily, Alfred and Lionel were living with Nanny Roberts in the Constable home in Hampstead.

  • On 31 March 1837 Constable returned to his Charlotte Street (near Tottenham Court Road) studio from a charity engagement for the Artists General Benevolent Institution.
  • Having rented out most of the upstairs in order to fund the cost of the family home in Hampstead, he decided to sleep in the attic.
  • His oldest son, John Charles Constable, was also staying with him at his studio that night.

Constable died on 31 March 1837 in the attic of his studio in Charlotte Street, just two months short of his sixty first birthday. He was buried alongside his wife Maria, in St John’s Church, in Hampstead. His brothers, Golding and Abram led the mourners. John Charles, Constable’s eldest son who had been with his father when he died, was too ill and upset to attend.

Extract from 'John Constable, A Kingdom Of His Own' by Anthony Bailey

“Young John had been at the theatre and when he got home and went to bed, he heard his father call out. Constable was in great pain and felt giddy.  His son suggested  a doctor be called but Constable said no.

He agreed to take some rhubarb and magnesia; this made him feel sick. He then drank some warn water which made him vomit. The pain got worse and Constable asked John to get hold of their neighbour Mr Michelle, a medical man.  He moved from his bed for a while to an upright chair and then back to bed where he lay on his side.

By the time Mr Michelle arrived Constable seemed to have fallen asleep, so his son thought, although in fact he had lost consciousness. Michelle said some brandy was needed as a stimulant. The maid ran downstairs to get some but she was too late.  Young John Charles heard Constable gasp several times and then nothing – he stopped breathing. His hands became cold. Half an hour after the onset of pain, he was dead.” 

John Constable had always been prone to neuralgia, depression, moodiness and anxiety brought on by slow progress as an artist, money worries and the poor health of his wife and children. In addition he suffered from severe rheumatism and in 1833 his heart had been weakened by an attack of rheumatic fever. Although Constable loved his children, the strain of supporting seven of them into adulthood took a toll on his artistic output and on his health.

John & Maria Constable's Grave - Hampstead Church

Burial place - St John's Church, Hampstead

photograph of Constable Memorial window - East Bergholt Church

Memorial window in East Bergholt Church

After death

On the death of their father, the surviving Constable children were left financially comfortable because they inherited:

  • John Constable’s artworks (some of which were auctioned)
  • £500 in the Constable bank account
  • £12,000 in annuities that Maria’s father’s legacy had purchased for the benefit of Maria and her children
  • £4,000 that Abram Constable, owed his brother, John
  • over £1000 owed by others
  • a bequest from Golding, John Constable’s brother, who died a year after John

However, they argued over the pictures left to them by their father. Charley felt his sisters, Minna (Maria-Louisa) and Isabel, had divided their father’s shipping pictures between them and that those particular pictures should have come to him. They in turn thought he had taken advantage of them.