Angus and I have just returned from a lovely week’s holiday in Norfolk. While there we had a couple of opportunities to also explore Suffolk, a fairly unfamiliar county to us both. I was particularly keen to view Constable country where the artist was born, brought up and the chief inspiration for his art. It was great to explore these places and to see how they had changed and what still remained similar. The highlight of our visit was a tour – just Angus, I and Zak the dog – of the area with a guide who, with various prints of Constable’s work, was able to put the prints alongside the same contemporary views.
|The Haywain, as it was and as it is now|
|The dry dock where the boat builder was painted on site|
|Flatford Mill as it is now, with the lock|
Although seeing the famous paintings in their contemporary settings was really inspiring, as well as discovering that Constable’s patron was also the patron of poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge, I was most inspired by the tragic and very moving story of Constable’s love interest. Her name was Maria Bicknell and she was twelve years younger than Constable, the grand daughter of a local wealthy Rector. John had begun by teaching her painting and sketching when he was 24 years old and she, just 12. By the time she had turned 18 and John painted a portrait of her, the relationship had moved beyond the bounds of friendship. But because Constable was a penniless painter, the family, especially the grandfather, were against the match and it was to be another 16 years before the couple could actually marry, when John was 40 years old. Even then the marriage was not supported by the families but at least, when the Rector died he finally recanted and left a legacy to Maria and their children. Sadly, after birthing 6 children, Maria died of consumption in 1828, after just 12 years of marriage and Constable just 9 years later of a suspected heart attack. Perhaps he never recovered from his broken heart in Maria’s death.
What a tender, loving story of a faithful love surviving against all odds but how tragic that the couple had so few years to enjoy their married bliss.