John Constable

11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837

John Constable

John Constable by Daniel Gardner, 1796


John Constable is widely considered today to be both highly influential and revolutionary in his work as a landscape painter. However, unlike other artists in the same period, such as JMW Turner, Constable only achieved moderate success during his lifetime, with much of his work considered “unfashionable.”

Unlike Turner, and many of Constable’s other peers who were inspired by the Romanticism movement, Constable is best known for the realism he presented in his work, taking a scientific approach to his subjects. He spent almost all of his life living in and around Suffolk, but took great inspiration from a two-month tour of the Lake District.


John Constable was born in June 1776, the son of Golding and Ann Constable. Golding Constable owned a corn mill, and the family lived relatively comfortably. Constable’s early work celebrated the land around the mill on the Essex / Suffolk border, and he continued to paint the area throughout his entire career. Although he was initially prepped for taking over his father’s company, Constable was permitted to take art classes at the Royal Academy of Art from 1799. He began exhibiting paintings in 1803, however, at the time art collectors preferred romanticist style art, such as that by JMW Turner, and consequently Constable’s more realistic landscapes were not so popular. Therefore, in order to earn money, Constable began work as portrait artist, but never particularly enjoyed it.

Constable spent some time travelling, including to the Lake District, before marrying his lifelong friend, Maria Bicknell, in 1816. The couple had seven children in total. Although he had continued to earn an income from his paintings, it wasn’t until 1819 that Constable started to be more successful, first with The White Horse, and then with The Hay Wain – perhaps his most famous image. Eventually, in 1829, he achieved membership of the Royal Academy, but this was marred by the grief that he felt from losing his wife to tuberculosis the year before. He reportedly remained in a depressed state until his death in 1837.


John Constable is best known for his iconic image, The Hay Wain. This idyllic rural scene has been voted one of Britain’s most favourite paintings by listeners of Radio 4. The realism he portrayed in images such as this would inspire other artists to take a new approach to landscape painting.

For Constable, the sky was the key aspect to much of his work. He spent hours studying the sky, sketching and noting what he saw. His records were so detailed, they have been used by climate scientists to plot changes in the earth’s atmosphere.

Links to the Lake District

In 1806, Constable took a two-month tour of the Lake District, encouraged by his uncle who himself had recently visited the area. It was one of the few trips that Constable made outside of south-east England, and he took great inspiration from the area, and from the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge, with whom he met during his stay. Constable produced almost 100 images during this time, many depicting the dramatic changes to the sky that he witnessed. It was here that his interest in meteorology, that would later play a significant role in his work, began to take shape.

Sites of Interest

Constable spent half of his time in the Lake District in the picturesque Borrowdale Valley, near Keswick, choosing to stay in the area to sketch rather than accompany his travelling companion. The area is rich with walking opportunities, including the delightful Castle Crag.

Constable stayed at Brathay Hall near Windermere for part of his visit, meeting Wordsworth and Coleridge here. Today, Brathay Hall is home to a charitable trust supporting young people, but it also offers short break accommodation, allowing you to seek your own artistic inspiration.