Past Events

Rereading Constable: Letters, Life and Art

Conference – Alexandra Harris, Sarah Cove, Emma Roodhouse, Katharine Martin, Elenor Ling, Trev Broughton, Rhian Addison McCreanor, Timothy Wilcox, Amy Concannon, Gillian Forrester, Nicholas Robbins, Morna O'Neill

  • 2 December 2022
  • 9:30 – 7:00 pm
  • A one-day conference at the Paull Mellon Centre and online
    In-Person tickets sold out - if you would like to be added to the waiting list please email [email protected]
    Online tickets still available

How do artists’ letters articulate professional and personal affiliations, embody networks and forge allegiances? What role has letter writing played in artistic self-fashioning? In what ways do letters serve as a form of art-historical evidence, and help us understand works of art themselves?

R.B. Beckett’s multi-volume edition of Constable’s correspondence, published in six volumes by the Suffolk Records Society (1962–68), has long been recognised as an invaluable source for scholars working on the artist, and for all those interested in British art and culture in the late Georgian period. The published correspondence shows the painter to have been a shrewd, skilled writer, versed in a variety of literary, scientific and biblical texts. His correspondents were, in turn, often highly articulate writers, including many family members, and many more with very different characters and backgrounds. Often utilised by art historians, the correspondence has more recently attracted the interest of scholars interested in the literary character and rhetorical conventions of nineteenth-century correspondence, who have subjected Constable’s letters to new kinds of critical scrutiny. This event will build on this important work, exploring Romantic art, culture and society through the prism provided by the landscape painter’s correspondence.

The central structuring concept of this interdisciplinary conference is that speakers will focus on a single letter written by the artist, his correspondents or other contemporary figures whose work, life or letters can be understood in productive relation to Constable himself. These individual letters will be used to open up new questions and arguments about Constable’s life, practice and identity as a painter, and about the wider artistic, literary, religious and political cultures of his era.

Rereading Constable: Letters, Life and Art has been organised as part of the PMC’s Generation Landscape research project. The conference is being convened by Stephen Daniels and Mark Hallett.


We are offering up to five bursaries to support individuals who may not otherwise be able to attend the conference. Bursaries will cover the ticket price, travel and some expenses, including childcare. If you would like to be considered for a bursary please email [email protected] with Rereading Constable Bursary in the subject field, outlining your request for a supported place by 10am Friday 4 November 2022.

Conference Programme

9.00am -9.30am Registration

9.30am–10.00am: Welcome by Mark Hallett (Paul Mellon Centre), followed by Introduction by Stephen Daniels (University of Nottingham)

10.00am–11.00am: Session 1: Chair: Stephen Daniels

10.00 – 10.20 Alexandra Harris (University of Birmingham), New friends, new scenes: Constable in the Arun Valley

10.20 – 10.40 Amy Concannon (Tate Britain), Strengthening ties and gaining esteem: Constable writes to Wordsworth, 15 June, 1836

10.40 – 11.00 Q&A

11.00am–11.30am: Tea/coffee break

11.30am–12.30pm: Session 2: Chair: Martin Postle (Paul Mellon Centre)

11.30 – 11.50 Emma Roodhouse (Art Curator and Researcher), An evening’s amusement: Portraits, writing and other oddments from the Mason family album

11.50 – 12.10 Sarah Cove (The Constable Research Project), A Regency “nip-and-tuck”: Constable’s Treslove portraits rediscovered

12.10 – 12.30 Q&A

12.30 –13.30 Lunch in Anteroom

13.30 –14.30 Session 3: Chair: Mark Hallett

13.30 – 13.50 Morna O’Neill (Wake Forest University), John Constable, David Lucas and artistic identity

13.50 – 14.10 Katharine Martin (V&A and the University of Sussex), Translations and fraught relations: English landscape and the language of collaboration

14.10 – 14.30 Q&A

14.30 – 14.45 Comfort break

14.45 –15.45 Session 4: Chair: Amy Concannon (Tate)

14.45 – 15.05 Gillian Forrester (Independent Scholar), “solemnity, not gaiety”: language and the production of meaning in Constable’s English Landscape Scenery and Salisbury Cathedral

15.05 – 15.25 Elenor Ling (The Fitzwilliam Museum), The “definition of our book”: John Constable, David Lucas and their English Landscape

15.25 – 15.45 Q&A

15.45–16.15 Tea/coffee break

16.15–17.00 Session 5: Chair: Morna O’Neill (Wake Forest University)

16.15 – 16.25 Rhian Addison McCreanor (University of York and Tate Britain), Repairing the house with a thorough painting: Reimagining 63 Charlotte Street

16.25 – 16.45 Nicholas Robbins (University College London), The Life Academy and the origins of landscape

16.45 – 17.00 Q&A

17.00 – 17.40 Panel discussion Participants: Stephen Daniels (University of Nottingham), Trev Broughton (University of York) and Timothy Wilcox (Independent Scholar)

17.40 – 17.45 Mark Hallett, Closing remarks and thanks

17.45 – 18.45 Drinks reception

About the speakers

  • Alexandra Harris headshot

    Alexandra Harris is a professor of English at the University of Birmingham, and has wide interests in British art, literature, landscape and history. She runs the Arts of Place research network and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In recent essays Alexandra has written on Georgics, the agricultural year, land art – and “Late Constable” for the Royal Academy magazine.

  • Sarah Cove headshot

    Sarah Cove ACR is an Accredited Paintings Conservator-Restorer, technical art historian and lecturer. In 1986 she founded the Constable Research Project (CRP). She is now the recognised authority on John Constable’s oil painting materials and techniques. In 1988 she was a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for British Art. In 2004 she gave the Inaugural Lecture for The Constable Trust and in 2007 she co-led the Constable Symposium for The Great Landscapes exhibition in Washington DC. In 2016 Sarah celebrated thirty years of the CRP with a paper detailing history, methodology and key findings of her research for the CATS III conference in Copenhagen. Sarah has published widely in the fields of conservation and Constable scholarship, including major essays in Tate’s Constable (1991) and Constable: The Great Landscapes (2006) exhibition catalogues. She is a consultant to international museums and galleries, private collectors and salerooms, working in close collaboration with Anne Lyles.

  • Emma Roodhouse headshot

    Emma Roodhouse is an art curator and researcher, with a special interest in Suffolk artists. Emma has curated many exhibitions for Colchester and Ipswich Museums, including Creating Constable (2021–2022); Made in Suffolk: Ed Sheeran (2019); Kiss and Tell: Rodin and Suffolk Sculpture (2018); Women 100 (2018); Twists and Turns, Hairstyles in Art (2017) and A Year of Constable (2015). Emma has been involved in the British Art Network coordinating the Landscape Research Group and pursuing research into landscape art, access and the climate emergency. She was the recipient in 2014 of awards for research into Constable’s garden paintings at the Yale Centre for British Art. More recently her research into Constable’s early career and his artistic circle was funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. This produced an exhibition and the first publication on the Colchester and Ipswich Museums Constable collection, Creating Constable (2021).

  • Katharine Martin headshot

    Katharine Martin is an AHRC-funded CDP student with the V&A/University of Sussex preparing a thesis on the relationship between John Constable and David Lucas and the wider significance of English Landscape. Prior to this she worked as a curator for twenty years in the Paintings and Prints departments at the V&A which holds the national collection of John Constable. She co-curated the V&A touring exhibition, Seeking Truth: The Art of John Constable, which opened at the Art Safari Festival in Bucharest in September. Katharine is also currently curating a display at the V&A on the relationship between Constable and Lucas for 2024.

  • Elenor Ling headshot

    Elenor Ling is Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Fitzwilliam Museum, responsible for the care, interpretation and display of the collection comprising ca. 150,000 objects. Elenor is currently researching the print albums belonging to Lord Fitzwilliam (1745‒1816), and a conservation and digitisation project of prints by David Lucas after Constable, and Constable’s letters to the engraver, held at the Fitzwilliam, as well as a related collaborative outreach project with Cambridge Digital Humanities which seeks to take Constable’s works into the landscape in which they were made.

  • Trev Broughton is a Reader (retired) and Associate of the Dept of English and Related Literature at the University of York. Broughton has published on many aspects of nineteenth-century Life-writing, including biography, autobiography, letters, epitaphy and hagiography. Her most recent research on Victorian Publishers' Life-writings appeared in Victorian Studies, and a piece on nineteenth-century journalism will be published in Sean Grass ed. Intimate Transactions (EUP). She is co-editor of Journal of Victorian Culture.

  • Head and shoulders portrait of Rhian Addison4424col

    Rhian Addison McCreanor is an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) collaborative PhD student between the University of York and Tate Britain researching landscape artists’ studios in London, 1780–1850. Rhian was awarded funding by the PMC to co-convene The Spatial Eighteenth Century: Rethinking Urban Networks and Maps, 1650–1850 (November 2021) and a Research Support Grant (2020) to develop case studies on George Morland and John Constable. Rhian was formerly Curator (Historic Fine Art) at the Whitworth, University of Manchester and Assistant Curator at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village. In 2019 Rhian served as a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) policy intern at the National Archives reporting to Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on whether current export policies are fit to protect digital cultural assets. Rhian has also completed her Project Management Qualification and Associateship of the Museum Association.

  • Headshot of Timothy Wilcox

    Timothy Wilcox is an independent scholar and exhibition curator with special interests in British art, in landscape and in watercolour painting. He was a museum curator in the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings following positions at the V&A, in Liverpool and Hove. As a freelance curator and lecturer since 1997, he has organised exhibitions on John Constable, John Sell Cotman, Laura Knight and Hilda Carline, at venues including Tate, the Lowry, the Wordsworth Trust and Dulwich Picture Gallery. He is the author of Constable and Salisbury: The Soul of Landscape (2011) and a contributing author of Constable’s Clouds (2000) and The Solitude of Mountains: Constable in the Lake District (2006). He contributes regularly to the outreach programmes of the Ashmolean Museum and lectures at museums and galleries in Britain, Europe and the USA.

  • Headshot of Amy Concannon

    Amy Concannon is Manton Senior Curator, Historic British Art at Tate, where she oversees holdings including Constable, Blake and Turner and has curated a range of exhibitions including Turner’s Modern World (2020), William Blake (2019) and Late Turner (2014). Her PhD thesis (2018) used Constable as a starting point to explore the visual culture of the urban landscape in the early 1800s, focusing on Salisbury, Bristol, Brighton and Lambeth. Before joining Tate in 2012 she worked at Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere, where she is now a Trustee.

  • Headshot of Gillian Forrester in sepia tones

    Gillian Forrester is an independent art historian, curator and writer. She was formerly Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Yale Center for British Art and specialises in British print culture in a transnational context. She has curated numerous exhibitions and authored and edited several books, including (with Tim Barringer and Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz) Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and His Worlds (Yale University Press, 2007), which won the College Art Association's 2009 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for an especially distinguished catalogue in the history of art.

    She has a particular interest in the prints of J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. She was the curator of exhibitions on Turner’s Liber Studiorum at the Nottingham University Art Gallery (1986) and Tate Britain (1996), for which she wrote the catalogue now regarded as the definitive text on the topic. She curated exhibitions on The Romantic Landscape Print and The Romantic Print in the Age of Revolutions at the Yale Center for British Art (2002, 2003), and The Romantic Print in Britain at the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh (2004). She is currently working on an essay for the Yale Center for British Art on Turner’s prints, with particular reference to W.G. Rawlinson’s collection that formed the basis of YCBA’s holdings, and two book projects, one on the Romantic print and the other (in collaboration with Professor Morna O’Neill) on John Constable’s English Landscape Scenery.

  • Head and shoulders portrait of Nick Robbins

    Nicholas Robbins is a lecturer in British Art at University College London, and is currently writing a book on the aesthetic, scientific and cultural history of climate in nineteenth-century Britain. His recent article re-examining the relationship of John Constable and Luke Howard’s meteorological aesthetics received the 2022 Emerging Scholars Award from the Nineteenth-Century Studies Association.

  • Morna O'Neill headshot in front of a grey background

    Morna O'Neill is Professor of Art History in the Department of Art at Wake Forest University. She is the author of Walter Crane: The Arts and Crafts, Painting, and Politics (Yale University Press, 2011) and Hugh Lane: The Art Market and the Art Museum, 1893–1915 (Yale University Press, 2018). Her current research addresses the conjunction of artistic and industrial materials and methods in the decades before the Great Exhibition of 1851. This proposed talk draws upon research for this project, as she positions Constable, Lucas and their fraught collaboration on English Landscape in relationship to the use of steel plates and contemporary debates about the industrialisation of printmaking.