John Constable's daughters
John Constable was father to three daughters, two of whom survived into adulthood. Maria Louisa ("Minna") 1819-1885 (first daughter, second child) Isabel 1822-1888 (second daughter, fourth child) Emily - 1825-1839 (third daughter, fifth child,)
Minna was nine when in 1828 her mother died. She immediately stepped into her mother’s shoes, teaching her younger brothers and sisters to read and write as well as occasionally collecting insects for her brother Charley. John Constable relied on Minna and loved her dearly. In 1831 he wrote of her:
“She is so orderly in all her plans, and so full of method, so lady-like by nature and so firm and yet so gentle that you cannot believe the influence this heavenly little monitor has on this whole house, but most of all on me, who watch all her dear ways with mingled smiles and tears.” (letter written in 1831 from John Constable to his friend and biographer CR Leslie)
Minna attended Miss Sophia Noble’s School in Hampstead where she learnt music and dancing. She enjoyed reading romantic stories which Constable’s friend, John Fisher thought ‘morbid’. By giving her a prayer book to read instead, her father failed dismally in his efforts to stop her reading those romantic stories!
At death's door
In the spring of 1832, Minna now aged twelve, became seriously ill with a severe cold and sore throat and Constable feared for her life and that of his other children. He wrote:
“My dear child is alarmingly ill, her pulse today is 150 … God knows how this will terminate. I am very anxious for the two other little dears (Charles and John) who must remain at school it not having been advisable to have them home … all our endeavour is to keep this most cruel disorder out of the way of my boys”. (note written in 1832 by John Constable to his friend and biographer CR Leslie)
To John Constable’s enormous relief Maria recovered. Maria remained at the centre of her father’s life and his family. She did not marry and died aged sixty five.
Isabel 1822-1888 (second daughter, fourth child)
Little is known about Isabel except that along with her sisters, she attended Miss Sophia Noble’s school in Hampstead and learnt handwriting, piano, dancing and comportment. On a trip to Dedham with her father and sisters, Isabel brought along a kitten from the family home in Hampstead which she had hidden in her bonnet.
In 1888 she gave or bequeathed to the South Kensington Museum in her own name and on behalf of her sister Maria Louisa and brother Lionel Bicknell, 95 Constable oil paintings and sketches, 297 drawings and watercolours and three sketchbooks. The same year, Isabel Constable also made smaller gifts of her father’s work to the British Museum, the Royal Academy and the National Gallery. She died in 1888.
She did not marry and outlived her siblings. She died in 1888, aged 66.
Emily - 1825-1839 (third daughter, fifth child,)
Emily was born prematurely and shared her birthday with her brother Charles Golding (Charley). She caught scarlet fever in 1839 and died aged fourteen – at this time, scarlet fever killed more children in Britain than any other disease.