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John Constable (1776–1837)

Brief Biography of the Artist

John Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) was an English painter born in Suffolk. Like his contemporary, Turner, he sought to elevate the status of landscape painting to the same level as history painting in Britain at the time. His paintings followed nature closely, and he took inspiration from the English countryside. His most famous works Dedham Vale (1821) and the Hay Wain (1821), show an intimacy and childhood familiarity with their Suffolk scenery, which explains why the local areas are now known as ‘Constable Country’.

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Constable in the Archive Collections

Charles Rhyne Archive

Charles S. Rhyne (1932–2013) was an art historian and expert on the English landscape artist John Constable. The material he compiled during his life-long interest in the artist was assembled into over five hundred files which – alongside correspondence, research notes, lectures, slides, travel notebooks and annotated published works – include thousands of images depicting works by Constable, many of which were taken by Rhyne himself. The archive also contains various manifestations of catalogue entries compiled by Rhyne for the catalogue raisonné featuring the artist’s early paintings. The project was taken forward and completed by Graham Reynolds in The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable(1996).

The Charles Rhyne Archive is not yet catalogued, but a boxlist is available online.

W.G. Constable Archive

Constable, William George (1887–1976) was an art historian and gallery director. In the 1930s he began to collect material on John Constable, with a view to publishing a comprehensive catalogue on the artist. This project was never realised but the archive contains 35 files of correspondence, research notes and photographs he collected during his research.

The W.G. Constable Archive has been catalogued and the descriptions are available online.

Frank Simpson Archive

Frank Simpson (1911–2002) was an amateur art historian. He worked as librarian at The Barber Institute of Fine Art, Knoedler & Co. and at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. The archive contains records from the London office of Knoedler’s, which detail works of art which passed through their London, New York and Paris branches, and includes three files specifically relating to works of art by Constable. These files contain information about approximately 35 works which passed through the saleroom between 1913 and 1971. The type of information for each work varies, but may include photographs, correspondence and pedigree information.

The archive also contains an additional file of newspaper cuttings concerning works by Constable. The Frank Simpson Archive has been catalogued and the descriptions can be searched online.

Paul Oppé Archive

Adolph Paul Oppé (1878–1957) was a British art historian, critic, art collector and museum official. Paul Oppé’s specialism was in eighteenth and nineteenth-century British art history, hence his interest in Constable, both as a collector and scholar. The Oppé Archive contains a series of ‘Research files on artists' which include material he created, collected and compiled on different artists throughout his career. Within this series there are two files containing material on Constable. Oppé also wrote about Constable in the unique and highly personal set of notebooks, collectively known as the ‘Black Books’, that he maintained between 1894– Specific references to Constable appear in the following four volumes: 82, 94, 109 and 114. A further file, containing Oppé’s notes on the Groult collection, contains a significant amount of material concerning Constable.

The Paul Oppé archive has been catalogued and the descriptions can be searched online.

The Brian Sewell Archive

Brian Sewell (1931–2015) was a British art historian, author, critic and media personality. His highly acclaimed work for the Evening Standard and other publications led him to write on a huge range of subjects, but particularly the arts. The archive contains one file which, alongside handwritten notes and research material, includes Sewell’s reviews of exhibitions featuring Constable between1991 and 2009.

The Brian Sewell archive has been catalogued and the descriptions can be searched.

Ellis Waterhouse Archive

Sir Ellis Kirkham Waterhouse (1905–1985) was an art historian and museum director. The Waterhouse Archive contains a series of ‘Research files on artists’ which include the material he created, collected and compiled on different artists throughout his career. Within this series there is is one file concerning Constable, which includes 25 images of works by the artist.

The Ellis Waterhouse Archive has been catalogued and the descriptions can be searched online.

The above archive collections contain substantial amounts of material for Constable. You may also discover smaller quantities of material, such as individual letters referencing the artist, research notes and photographs, by searching the online catalogue and boxlists.

Constable in the Photographic Archives

  • The Paul Mellon Centre Photo Archive consists of mounted reference images depicting works of art. It has been digitised in its entirety and contains more than 2,400 images associated with John Constable. The bulk of the images fall within the Artists A–Z series, and are arranged in relation to Graham Reynolds’ catalogues raisonnés on the artist. The PMCPA also includes facsimiles of a number of Constable’s sketchbooks from the Royal Albert Memorial Museum Collection in Exeter and the British Museum Collection in London. The photographs feature – alongside several watercolour studies – a rich array of figurative, landscape and architectural drawings.

Constable in the Library

The Library has large amounts of material on this artist.

  • Books – around 150 books, including biographies, catalogues raisonnés and artist monographs dating from the late nineteenth century to the present day.
  • Exhibition catalogues – around 50 exhibition catalogues from regional and national public museums and private galleries in the UK, Europe and around the world.
  • Journal articles – over 30 journal articles that have been individually catalogued from journals such as Apollo, the British Art Journal and the Burlington Magazine.
  • Auction catalogues – around 20 auction catalogues dating from the late nineteenth century to 1990.
  • Published and unpublished PhD and other dissertations from the UK, Germany and the USA.

Constable in Paul Mellon Centre Publications

The Paul Mellon Centre has published several books concerning Constable. Two catalogues raisonnés of the artist’s works were authored by Graham Reynolds. The 1984 catalogue raisonné focuses on the artist’s late works and the 1996 publication features Constable’s early artworks. Although completed by Reynolds, these publications (especially The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable) were based upon various manifestations of catalogue entries compiled by the Constable specialist, Charles Rhyne. Richard Wendorf wrote a book in 2005 discussing artists After Sir Joshua, which features Constable. Damian Taylor and Stephen Daniels have published essays on the artist in the online journal, British Art Studies.