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’.
John’s father, Golding Constable, was a Suffolk businessman who profited from the agricultural boom under way 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, 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 40.
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 100 still exist today.
Constable at school
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 Ford Street School near Colchester.
At the age of 11 John became a full boarder at Lavenham Grammar School where he received unwarranted 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 of and love for the Suffolk countryside which was to inspire his art and become the hallmark of his paintings in later in life.
The beginnings of his career
John’s mother introduced him to Sir George Beaumont, an amateur artist and art collector, whose mother lived in nearby Dedham. Lord Beaumont was an influential figure and possibly eased Constable’s student entry into the Royal Academy. When the 19-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.