"My careless boyhood"

John Constable was born on 11 June 1776, into a wealthy, close-knit family providing him with love, support and financial security. The family had by this time moved from Flatford Mill to a mansion built by Golding called East Bergholt House which is where John Constable was born.  John Constable once described his early life with his two brothers Golding and Abram and three sisters, Ann, Martha and Mary as his ‘careless boyhood’. 

Golding and Anne were ambitious for their children and wanted the family to be accepted into educated society – which is why they invested a considerable amount of money in their education.

  • At the age of seven John became a weekly boarder at Ford Street School near Colchester
  • At the age of eleven John became a full boarder at Lavenham Grammar School where he received unwarranted beatings so his parents moved him to the Royal Grammar School in nearby Dedham

Constable was not a good scholar. He was described by Dr Grimwood, the headmaster at Dedham Grammar School, as knowing ‘little Latin and less literature.’  The Royal Grammar School in Dedham was kind to John and encouraged his interest in calligraphy and in drawing. The daily walk between his home in East Bergholt and Dedham School instilled in him a deep knowledge and love for the Suffolk countryside which was to inspire his art and become the hallmark of his paintings in later in life.

John Constable's parents

Portraits of John Constable's parents Golding and Anne
Golding & Anne Constable by John Constable owned by Ipswich & Colchester Museums

John’s father, Golding Constable was a Suffolk businessman who profited from the agricultural boom underway during his lifetime.

By the time John was born, Golding owned Flatford Mill, Dedham Mill, a windmill at East Bergholt. He used the Stour Navigation to transport goods to Mistley Wharf and then to London in one of his Thames barges.

John’s mother Ann Constable the daughter of a London barrel manufacturer. John was her 4th child and 2nd son. Anne was more supportive of John’s artistic ambitions than her husband.

However,  she did not believe he could make a living out of painting landscapes and persuaded him to paint portraits – around one hundred still exist today.

Golding assumed his son John would take over the family firm and so did not take his son’s aspirations to become an artist seriously. However, and despite deep misgivings and because his youngest son Abram agreed to take over the family business, he agreed to fund John’s artistic studies at the Royal Academy.

Golding continued to provide  financial support to John until his son was nearly forty.

Note: there is a view that the portrait on the left is of John Constables head master at Dedham Grammar School (Rev Dr Grimwood) and not of Golding Constable.  Click on the links above to see other paintings of John Constable’s parents owned by the Tate Gallery. 

John Dunthorne - friend and mentor

Local artist and artisan John Dunthorne, introduced John Constable to landscape painting. Young Constable spent time in John Dunthorne’s cottage situated just along the road from East Bergholt House  and the pair often went on sketching and painting expeditions in the Stour Valley. Constable’s friendship with such an unconventional man (an aetheist to boot!) was deeply unpopular with his parents and the local rector, the grandfather of his sweet-heart, Maria Bicknell.  Read more about John and Johnny Dunthorne