Born in East Bergholt, Suffolk on 11 June 1776, Constable was the second son of the six children of Golding Constable and Ann Watts. He was educated at a private school in Lavenham and at the grammar school in Dedham, subsequently joining the family business, of which it was intended he would succeed as manager. He learned the technique of painting from John Dunthorne (a local plumber and glazier who was an amateur painter), and was encouraged by Sir George Beaumont. Staying with relatives at Edmonton in 1796 he met John Cranch, a mediocre artist whose style he imitated, and John Thomas Smith, the antiquarian draftsman, with whom he made drawings of picturesque cottages. In 1799 his father gave him an allowance to enter the Royal Academy Schools, reluctantly consenting in 1802 to his becoming a professional painter. That same year Constable showed his first landscape at the Academy (where he was to exhibit nearly every year until his death), and acquired a studio opposite the family house. He spent summers in East Bergholt, sketching from nature, until 1817; in the autumn of 1806 he made a two-month visit to the Lake District.
In 1809 Constable met and fell in love with Maria Bicknell, but he was unable to marry her until 1816 owing to the opposition of Maria's grandfather. After the marriage the couple lived in London, first on Keppel Street, then, after 1822, on Charlotte Street. The marriage, which was the prelude to Constable's finest work, was a deeply happy one, and there were seven children, to whom the artist was devoted; Maria's health was far from robust, however, and she died in 1828, a blow from which Constable never fully recovered.
He was belatedly elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, but did not attain full Academicianship until 1829, an injustice that rankled. Although Constable himself never left England, he had three works shown in 1824 in the Paris Salon, where they were acclaimed by the French artists and were awarded a gold medal. This led to the sale in France of over twenty works and to demands for replicas--previously Constable had sold few of his pictures except to patrons who were already his friends. He still depended on financial support, however, from the family concerns managed by his devoted brother, Abram.
Constable found a retreat in Hampstead in 1820 and began his studies of clouds (or "skying") there the following year; in 1827 he bought the house on Well Walk, which remained his country home until his death. After his marriage he returned to Suffolk less frequently, but became better acquainted with the south of England, visiting Salisbury, Brighton, Arundel, and Petworth at various times between 1824 and 1835. All these visits, which enabled him to become familiar with the surrounding country, were productive of pictures. In 1829 he embarked on the publication of English Landscape Scenery, with mezzotints by David Lucas. In 1836 he delivered at the Royal Institution his celebrated series of lectures on the history of landscape painting. He died at Hampstead on 31 March 1837.
[Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 27-29.]
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