Ann Watts was the daughter of a London barrel manufacturer who married Suffolk businessman, Golding Constable in 1767. She gave birth to six children, managed the Constable household and a large workforce working in the poultry yard, the domestic brewery and the dairy.
Ann’s first three children (Ann, Martha and Golding) were born in the house at Flatford Mill. By the time John was born, the family had moved into East Bergholt House, the mansion that Ann’s husband had built extending over three floors with stables and a courtyard. John was Ann’s second son, fourth child and the first Constable to be born in East Bergholt House.
Supporting John’s ambition
It was John’s mother who:
- encouraged John to become a painter although she worried he would not make any money out of it and suggested that painting portraits would be more lucrative than painting landscapes. Although his temperament was lacking in the interpersonal skills needed by a portraitist, Constable completed about 100 portraits some of which are very fine
- introduced John to Sir George Beaumont*, an amateur artist and art collector whose mother lived in nearby Dedham. When the nineteen year old John Constable showed Beaumont some of his pen and ink sketches, Beaumont showed Constable a small picture called “Hagar and the Angel” an Italianate landscape with a bright sky painted in 1646 by Claude Lorraine. Seeing this painting had a lifelong effect on Constable’s development as a painter of landscapes
*The occasion was Sir George Beaumont visiting his mother, the Dowager Lady Beaumont, with his friend Joseph Farington. Both Sir George and Farington had considerable influence in the Royal Academy and helped Constable on many occasions when he was a student at the Royal Academy School.
Supporting John’s marriage intentions
It was John’s mother who:
- recognised the power of Rev Dr Rhudde, Maria Bicknell’s wealthy grandfather, and did all she could to keep the irascible rector onside when he threatened to disinherit Maria if she married her son
- manufactured situations requiring John to call on Rev Dr Rhudde and to be polite to him
- welcomed invitations to ride in Rev Dr Rhudde’s carriage on her way home from visiting her daughter Martha in London
- accepted Rev Rhudde’s offers to carry letters and parcels to London for John to collect
- exclaimed, when the rector's gardener rearranged the raised beds outside Dr Rhudde' study window so they took the form of two hearts, “It may cause him to have a fellow feeling for others in the same situation”.
Hub of the community
Ann kept in touch with village life whilst maintaining contact with her London friends. She made frequent visits to the London home of her married daughter Martha, her husband Nathaniel Whalley and their children. Today we might describe Ann Constable as a social climber because she:
- thought of the Constable family as ‘gentry’ (even though their wealth was derived entirely from ‘trade’)
- thoroughly approved of John’s liaison with Maria Bicknell, the daughter of the Prince Regent’s lawyer
- did not approve of John’s close friendship with local, amateur artist and jack-of-all-trades, John Dunthorne whom she considered to be unsuitable company
The Constable mansion in East Bergholt contained two gardens, one for vegetables and another for flowers (see image 4 above). While in the flower garden, Anne Constable collapsed with a stroke and died a few weeks later on 9 March 1815 aged sixty seven.