John Constable

John Constable was an English Romantic painter known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, now known as "Constable Country".

Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable in British art, Constable was never financially successful. He did not become a member of the establishment until he was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of 52. His painting was embraced in France, where he sold more works than in his native England and inspired the Barbizon school.

John Constable was born in a village on the River Stour in Suffolk. His father was a wealthy corn merchant and John was expected to succeed his father in the business. Constable worked in the corn business after leaving school, but his younger brother Abram eventually took over the running of the mills.

In his youth, Constable embarked on amateur sketching trips in the surrounding Suffolk and Essex countryside, which was to become the subject of a large proportion of his art. He was introduced to George Beaumont, a collector, who showed him his prized Hagar and the Angel by Claude Lorrain, which inspired Constable.

In 1799, Constable persuaded his father to let him pursue a career in art. Entering the Royal Academy Schools he attended life classes and anatomical dissections, and studied and copied old masters. Among works that particularly inspired him during this period were paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Claude Lorrain, Peter Paul Rubens, Annibale Carracci and Jacob van Ruisdael.

In 1802 he refused the position of drawing master at Great Marlow Military College. His early style has many qualities associated with his mature work, including a freshness of light, colour and touch, and reveals the compositional influence of the old masters he had studied. Constable's usual subjects, scenes of ordinary daily life, were unfashionable in an age that looked for more romantic visions of wild landscapes and ruins. Constable adopted a routine of spending winter in London and painting at East Bergholt in summer.

From 1809, his childhood friendship with Maria Bicknell developed into a deep, mutual love. Their marriage in 1816 when Constable was 40. From a honeymoon tour of the south coast, the sea at Weymouth and Brighton stimulated Constable to develop new techniques of brilliant colour and vivacious brushwork. At the same time, a greater emotional range began to be expressed in his art.

In 1819 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. In his lifetime, Constable sold only 20 paintings in England, but in France he sold more than 20 in just a few years. Despite this, he refused all invitations to travel internationally to promote his work. After the birth of their seventh child in January 1828, Maria fell ill and died of tuberculosis in November at the age of 41 leaving Constable intensely saddened.

He was elected to the Royal Academy in February 1829, at the age of 52. In 1831 he was appointed Visitor at the Royal Academy, where he seems to have been popular with the students. He began to deliver public lectures on the history of landscape painting, which were attended by distinguished audiences. He also spoke against the new Gothic Revival movement, which he considered mere "imitation". He died on the night of the 31st March, apparently from heart failure.

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