Portrait Study, probably of Maria Constable

Portrait Study, probably of Maria Constable



John Constable, R.A. (1776-1837)
Portrait Study, probably of Maria Constable

17.5 by 10.8 cm., 6 ¾ by 4 ¼ in.

Ronald Brymer Beckett (1891-1970);
By descent until 2019

This portrait drawing is considered to depict the artist's wife Maria in the early 1820s. Maria Bicknell (1788-1828) was the daughter of a Solicitor to the Admiralty and her maternal grandfather, Dr Rhudde, was the Rector of East Bergholt. They first met there in 1800 and by 1809 they were in love. However Maria's family disapproved of the match and did not marry until 2
nd October 1816. In February 1816, Constable wrote to her: `How unfortunate that I should have [been the] cause of bringing all into [the] situation I did with the wretched Doctor - but let us for ever dismiss the grievous side of the subject…. I am happy in love - an affection exceeding a thousand times my deserts, which has continued so many years, and is yet undiminished …. Never will I marry in this world if I marry not you. Truly can I say that for the seven years since I avowed my love for you, I have never considered could have made you in any way uncomfortable….' (R.B.Beckett, ed., John Constable's Correspondence, vol. II, 1964, p.179). They eventually had seven children, but Maria died of tuberculosis in 1828. In a letter to his brother Golding of 18th December 1828, Constable wrote ` I shall never feel again as I have felt, the face of the World is totally changed for me' (A. Shirley, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, 1937, p.234).

Peter Bower has dated the wove paper the drawing is executed on to the early to mid1820s when Maria was in her mid thirties. A drawing of the young Maria by Constable, dated to 1805-9, is in the Tate Gallery (T03900). It is also just a head study and is drawn from the same angle. A drawing of her in later life is recorded in the Constable family collection. The Tate also owns two oil portraits of Maria, one head and shoulders and the other a sketch of her and two children (N02655 and T03903). The intimacy of the present drawing as well as its relationship with other known drawings and paintings strongly suggests that this depicts Maria Constable.

This previously unrecorded drawing was in the family collection of the art historian R.B. Beckett. Beckett worked for the English Government in India until he retired in 1946 and began to study English artists publishing cataloguing on Hogarth, Lely as well as Constable. `John Constable's Correspondence' was published in six volumes between 1962 and 1968 and `Constable and the Fishers: the Record of a Friendship' in 1952.

We are grateful to Anne Lyles and Peter Bower for their comments on this drawing.