John Constable: Childhood

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John Constable was born on 11 June 1776, into a wealthy, close-knit family who provided him with love and support. John once described his early life with his two brothers Golding and Abram and three sisters, Ann, Martha and Mary as his ‘careless boyhood’.

Constable's parents

John’s father, Golding Constable was a Suffolk businessman who profited from the agricultural boom underway during his lifetime. Assuming John would take over the family firm, he did not take his son’s aspirations to become an artist seriously. However, and despite deep misgivings, Golding eventually agreed to fund John’s artistic studies at the Royal Academy and he continued to provide this financial support until Constable was nearly forty.

John’s mother Ann Constable the daughter of a London barrel manufacturer 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 which he did - around one hundred still exist today.

Constable, school boy

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.'

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

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 Dunthorne

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