John Constable (1776-1837) – Willy Lott’s House, Flatford, 1816, oil on canvas
Family, Friends and Artists in East Anglia
Emma Roodhouse, Collections and Learning Curator
2021 is a significant year for the artist, John Constable 1776-1837, being the 200th anniversary of The Hay Wain, perhaps his most famous work. It is also 200 years since the death of the Suffolk artist George Frost (1754-1821), Constable’s early mentor. To mark this significant bicentenary, a new research project has been taking place that will form an exhibition delving into the early East Anglian influences and personal connections that created Constable the artist.
This has only been made possible by generous funding from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, supporting our current Collections and Learning Curator to be seconded to this research project for over 15 months. The research will help to reveal the important untold stories of the Suffolk artists, local collectors and early supporters who provided Constable with the foundations on which to build a career. Importantly it will contribute to a better understanding of Constable locally and provide momentum for plans to celebrate 250 years since Constable’s birth in 2026.
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) – View near the Coast, oil on canvas
Key Artists for Research
The project started in February 2020 with an assessment of those artists in the Ipswich and Colchester collections that have links with Constable. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) is an acknowledged early influence on Constable and the Ipswich collection can be used to explore this crucial link. The 200th anniversary of the death of George Frost (1754-1821) will be the perfect moment to explore his work, which forms a creative bridge between Gainsborough and Constable.
George Frost (1754-1821) – Self portrait
The prolific Frost was Suffolk-born and spent much of his career sketching Ipswich and the surrounding landscape. Frost owned work by Gainsborough, whose style he followed. He also sketched with Constable, retracing Gainsborough’s footsteps through Ipswich. Today, Ipswich holds the largest collection of works by Frost in any public collection with over 300 drawings and paintings. All these works of art have now been digitised and this provides a comprehensive view of Frost’s artistic output. They will be on display in the 2021 exhibition and hopefully inspire further exploration into the Suffolk landscape.
George Frost (1754-1821) – Ipswich, c.1800, pencil
Also in the collection are drawings by Constable’s early mentor Sir George Howland Beaumont (1753 – 1827) born in Essex and with Suffolk links through his mother. He was of great importance for the young John introducing him to different artists.
John Dunthorne Sr. (1770-1844) was another friend and would sketch with the young Constable in East Bergholt and Ipswich. Dunthorne’s son, John Dunthorne Jr.(1798-1832), later worked as Constable’s studio assistant, making drawings for future paintings, most notably The Hay Wain. Both artists are represented in the Ipswich and Colchester collections.
John Dunthorne (1770-1844) – Flatford Lock, Suffolk, 1814, oil on panel
East Anglian Support
Early in his career, Constable’s close connection with Ipswich provided inspiration from other artists and an important network. A number of these were women and in particular Elizabeth Cobbold (1765-1824) who had expertise in science, literature and the arts. Elizabeth’s influence and connections would be of immense importance to the young artist. Early commissions from members of the Suffolk gentry and the Church provided Constable with crucial professional stability. These social networks will be explored in the forthcoming exhibition.
George Frost (1745–1821) – Portrait of Mrs Elizabeth Cobbold (1765–1824) oil on canvas
There is still much to discover about the people in ‘Constable’s Country’ and why his home continued to play such an important role in his art. It was the place he kept returning to and ‘This place first tinged my boyish fancy with a love of the art, This place was the origin of my Fame’.