John Constable was born at East Bergholt in Suffolk, the fourth of six children. In 1796 he went to London on an apprenticeship and met John Thomas Smith who used some of Constable’s early pictures for his book, Remarks on Rural Scenery. His early inspiration came from Gainsborough and particularly his East Anglian period. In 1799 he joined the Royal Academy and later set up a studio in East Bergholt. With financial assistance from his uncle, David Pike Watts, he went on a painting tour of the Lake District in 1806 from which came a number of watercolours and oil paintings. A year later he met the 5th Earl of Dysart who commissioned Constable to reproduce some family portraits. It wasn’t until 1816, however, that he became financially secure with the inheritance following the death of his father.
His first mature works started to appear in the 1820s, most noticeably with ‘The Hay Wain’ (1821) which exhibited at the Royal Academy. It was bought by John Arrowsmith who introduced Constable to Charles Schroth who in turn commissioned the artist to produce further works. He worked in the Picturesque style for some years but eventually renounced this in favour of a more realistic representation of his subjects. He was fascinated with the beauty of the British countryside and endeavoured to capture the ever-changing weather conditions and effects of light over the scenery. He generally sketched his subject matter in oil paints then finished the paintings in his studio. However, his ‘six-footers’ were sketched outdoors full-size, which leant his pictures a level of spontaneity which some critics claim was lost in the finished studio versions.
Nevertheless, his landscapes express a true devotion to his subject matter. His fascination with the earth and the sky and everything in between is always clear. During his career he won a number of awards and was elected a Royal Academician in 1829, a year after the death of his wife Maria Bicknell. Alongside Gainsborough, John Constable is regarded as one of the finest British landscape painters.