John Constable (1776-1837) came to dominate English landscape painting in the late 19th century. At the time of his death he was relatively unknown, but admiration for the freshness of his English landscapes soared during the Victorian period. He was born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, a village that he made famous through his scenes of local rural life, and he remained passionately fond of the Suffolk countryside throughout his career. As a young man Constable learned about the practicalities of farming from his father, but showed an enthusiasm for painting, and a marked reluctance to follow in his father’s trade. He worked constantly at improving his sketching, and in his mid-20’s began to develop his own realistic style. He showed the same sense of purpose in his courtship of Maria Bicknell, whom he married against the wishes of her family. In the years following their marriage he produced his best work, often of Suffolk scenes, including Stratford Mill (1820), The Hay-wain (1821), and View on the Stour near Dedham (1822). As Maria’s health failed he painted more somber views with stormy skies–Hadleigh Castle (1829) and Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows (1831).
East Bergholt. February 27, 1816
I received your letter my ever dearest Maria, this morning. You know my anxious disposition too well not be aware how much I feel at this time. At the distance we are from each other every fear will obtrude itself on my mind. Let me hope that you are not really worse than your kindness, your affection, for me make you say…I think…that no more molestation will arise to the recovery of your health, which I pray for beyond every other blessing under heaven.
Let us…think only of the blessings that providence may yet have in store for us and that we may yet possess. 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…foregone all company, and the society of all females (except my own relations) for your sake.
I am still ready to make my sacrifice for you…I will submit to any thing you may command me–but cease to respect, to love and adore you I never can or will. I must still think that we should have married long ago–we should have had many troubles–but we have yet had no joys, and we could not have starved…Your FRIENDS have never been without a hope of parting us and see what that has cost us both–but no more. Believe me, my beloved & ever dearest Maria, most faithfully yours, John
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