Barges on the Stour with Dedham Church in the Distance
Landscape of barges on the Stour with Dedham church in the background.
Throughout his career, Constable painted many oil sketches in and around the 17 century corn mill where he grew up, depicting scenes of the working Stour, of lock chambers, mechanisms and sluices and the barges that carried the corn and coal from his father’s mills at Dedham and Flatford, along the river to the sea, rooted with memories of his childhood.
1811 was an eventful year for Constable, with his mother asking him to paint a watercolour of East Bergholt Church for Dr Rhudde (‘East Bergholt Church'), spending March at Epsom for his health, visits and correspondence with Joseph Farington* and Maria leaving for a stay at Bewdley, Worcester with her widowed half-sister.
Constable also visited an old friend, the Bishop of Salisbury, and on that visit grew close to the bishop’s nephew, John Fisher whose correspondence is a significant source on Constable's art as he explains his aim and aspirations, and shows himself to be driven and ambitious.
By the mid part of the year Constable's friends worried by the effects on him of the separation from Maria, and by November/December Maria writes asking him to cease thinking of her and to forget that he ever knew her. He takes a coach to Worcestershire and is well received and on his return their correspondence continues. However at the close of the year his father writes – regrets his too great anxiety to excel and thinks that he makes too serious a matter of the business of painting!
*Joseph Farington, artist who documented his diary into sixteen volumes between 1793 and his death in 1821 which gave in insight into daily life in the London art community and became an invaluable source for this period primarily due to the meticulous recording of events, dinners, weather, and meetings at the Royal Academy.
Donated to the V&A by Isabel Constable, daughter of the artist in 1888
*Isabel Constable was the last surviving daughter of the painter and gave the contents of her father’s studio to the Victoria & Albert Museum, making them the principal collector of Constable's work which included 395 oil paintings, sketches, drawings, watercolours and sketchbooks.