John Constable was a landscape painter born at East Bergholt in Suffolk in 1776. He was, with Turner (q.v.) the major English landscape painter of the 19th century. Although he started exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1802 it was not until 1819 that he was finally recognised by the Academy. In his own words the Suffolk countryside made him a painter and he was happiest at painting watermills and windy skies, a love he owes to his upbringing as the son of a miller. His success in France influenced the development of artistic movements such as the Barbizon School and Romantic artists such as Eugene Delacroix. He was the last great painter of the Dutch landscape tradition. A large collection of his works was donated to the V&A by his daughter and Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich Suffolk has the greatest number of his paintings outside London.
This is a drawing by John Constable of St Mary’s Church in the village of Wherstead, three miles south of Ipswich in Suffolk on the Right Bank of the River Orwell. The church which is mentioned in the Doomsday Survey of 1086 still exists. Between 1600 and 1902 it had a large copper ball, five feet in diameter, at the top of the tower, serving as a navigation mark for vessels sailing up the Orwell.
This sketch, like the sketch of Feering Bury Mill (q.v.), has the charm of an intimate diary. It was perhaps intended as a preparatory drawing for a possible painting. Constable filled many pocket books with such studies around his country retreat in Suffolk. As well as mills, Constable painted many churches. He knew many church people, including John Fisher whom he met in 1811 and who was to become a close friend. John Fisher’s Uncle, Dr Fisher, who was an amateur watercolourist, had visited Dedham earlier. Dr Fisher was also the Bishop of Salisbury and Constable famously painted Sainsbury Cathedral on several occasions commissioned by him.
- LESLIE, C.R., Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, R.A. London, 1843
- REYNOLDS, G., Catalogue Resume of the Constable Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1959
- TAYLOR, Basil, Constable, Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours, Phaidon, London, 1973