Flatford Lock by John Dunthorne senior - 1814

John Dunthorne senior - 1770-1884

John Dunthorne was born in 1770 and became a plumber and glazier in East Bergholt. Six years older than John Constable, John Dunthorne was a talented artist as well as the local plumber, glazier, painter and village constable.  However, he was an unconventional free thinker, suspected of harbouring radical ideas and of fomenting dissent and insurrection in the countryside.  He was an aetheist and like many farm labourers of the time, did not attend church which had become largely a congregation of the middle classes. In addition, it is said he treated his wife badly and fathered a child by someone other than his wife.

The Dunthorne cottage was owned by John Constable’s father and situated close to the Constable house.  As young boys he and John formed a friendship and enjoyed sketching together in the Dedham Vale. John Dunthorne painted  inn signs and funeral hatchments and was asked to help restore a historic seventeenth-century wall-painting in St Mary’s Church, Hadleigh. However, the only painting definitely attributable to John Dunthorne senior is Flatford Lock – see above.

Dunthorne’s devotion to outdoor sketching and his practical knowledge of the materials and techniques of oil painting were a crucial source of encouragement and tuition for Constable who, prior to his move to the Royal Academy in London in 1799, was receiving little of either from anyone else. Constable expressed his deep attachment to Dunthorne, whom he included among ‘those whose love and friendship I most value’.

John Constable’s mother did not approve of John Dunthorne but more importantly neither did Rev Dr Rhudde, Rector of East Bergholt Church nor his grand-daughter Maria Bicknell whom John was anxious to marry. Maria considered Dunthorne too low in social class to be worthy of John Constable’s time and company. 

In order to appease Dr Rhudde’s opposition to him marrying Maria Bicknell, John Constable asked Dunthorne to never call at the Constable home again except in his capacity as plumber.  The break was short-lived because it failed to placate Dr Rhudde and Constable and Dunthorne shared a much more important interest – landscape painting.

John Dunthorne lived in East Bergholt until his death in 1844 at the age of seventy-four. His wife Hannah had four children, the third of whom, John Dunthorne (junior) was born in 1798.

John Dunthorne junior 1798-1832

Portrait of John Dunthorne Junior
Self portrait 1820

Johnny was the third child of John Dunthorne senior and his wife Hanah.

Due to his artistic ability he became Constable’s apprentice and in his teens assisted Constable during the artist’s visits to East Bergholt.

As a young man of 21 it was Johnny Dunthorne, who drew the outline of the harvest wagon (haywain) on a bitterly cold February morning and sent the sketches to John Constable in London. 

In 1824 John joined Constable in his London studio and worked as his assistant.  

John Dunnthorne junior was a serious painter and engraver and as well as helping John Constable, contributed his own work to the Royal Academy exhibitions from 1827 to 1832 and occasionally to the British Institution. He was a successful picture-cleaner and restorer and was highly praised for his restoration of a Reynolds portrait, a commission gained through the recommendation of Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Responsible for the preliminary stages of Constable’s studio paintings and for occasional replicas, Dunthorne is also known to have painted his own versions of Constable compositions and it is possible that paintings formerly attributed to Constable should be re-attributed to Dunthorne.

Paintings by John Dunthorne junior

All the paintings on this page are owned by Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service

The Dunthorne family grave in East Bergholt Churchyard

Sadly in July 1832, having suffered severe bouts of dropsy (build up of fluid in the soft tissues caused by heart failure), Dunthorne returned to East Bergholt where he died from heart disease on 2 November 1832.

He was buried seven days later aged 34 in East Bergholt Church