Life in Brief

Self portrait by John Constable, pencil and black chalk heightened with white and red chalk, circa 1799-1804
Young Constable - self portrait 1799-1804 - pencil and black chalk - National Portrait Gallery
Pen and ink drawing of John Constable aged 35 by John Wright 1811
Constable aged 35 - portrait in pen/ink by John Wright - 1811 - Colchester & Ipswich Museums

Portraits above are owned by the National Portrait Gallery and Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service. 

John Constable was born in 1776 into a loving and wealthy family. His father owned Flatford Mill and built a very large house he called East Bergholt House to accommodate his wife and six children. John was the second son and fourth child. 

  • 1779 – enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art, aged 23
  • 1801 – completed his first commission Old Hall East Bergholt
  • 1802 – rented his first studio (for four and a half old pennies a year), called Moss Cottage in East Bergholt where he worked undisturbed with John Dunthorne (senior)
  • 1802 – exhibited his first painting at the Royal Academy called Dedham Vale
  • 1805 – received his first commission –  an altarpiece at Brantham Church, a painting called Christ Blessing the Children for which his brother, Golding modelled for the face of Christ
  • 1809 – fell in love with a wealthy solicitor’s daughter, Maria Bicknell but had sold so few of his paintings, he could not afford to marry her

As an artist John struggled to sell his landscape paintings and depended on his family to support him until he was middle-aged. He made extra money by  painting portraits which he did skillfully if sometimes resentfully! 

Painting of East Bergholt House by John Constable c1811
Birthplace - East Bergholt House - V&A
Moss Cottage - First Studio - East Bergholt
Suffer the Little Children by John Constable
Christ Blessing the Children - Brantham Church
  • 1814 – painted the dry dock at Flatford –  Boat Building 
  • 1816, Constable’s father died. Abram his younger brother, took over the family business, running it for the benefit of the whole family. Most of the estate was sold and John’s resulting inheritance allowed him to marry Maria Bicknell and provide her with comfortable accommodation in Hampstead, including a staff of servants.
  • 1816 – married Maria Bicknell and over the next 12 years fathered seven surviving children
  • 1819 – exhibited the first of his six-footers at the Royal Academy – called The White Horse . It was the first 6 foot painting he sold. Later that year became an Associate Member of the Royal Academy
Boat Building 1814 - V&A
The White Horse 1819 - Frick Collection
Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows 1830 - Tate
  • 1821 – exhibited The Haywain at the Royal Academy which remained unsold
  • 1824 – awarded King Charles X Gold Medal for Art in Paris for The Haywain
  • 1824 – took on John Dunthorne (junior) as his assistant in his London studio
  • 1829 – wife Maria Bicknell died  from tuburculosis a few months after the birth of her seventh child (Lionel Bicknell Constable)
  • Bereft of his muse and the love of his life, Constable had seven motherless children to maintain 
  • Constable continued to paint in London, Salisbury and Petworth. His work became popular and started to sell
  • 1833 Constable died – he suffered from severe rheumatism and in 1833 his heart had been weakened by an attack of rheumatic fever.

To find out more about the life of John Constable, his parents, wife, children, influencers and career as a painter please click on the drop down menu in the top tool bar.