Constable In Love – Martin Gayford

Constable In Love is a biography of John Constable that art critic Martin Gayford has written with meticulousness and delight in every line. I first saw John Constable’s paintings in the Victoria and Albert Museum when I moved to London. I was especially fascinated by the way he painted the sky, and thanks to him, I started to look at the English countryside with different eyes. Well, of course, I did not neglect to look at the sky more.


Constable In Love is a delightful account of Constable and England of his time, based on the relationship between John Constable and Mary Bicknell. By not focusing only on John Constable, the author enabled us to look at the painter’s life from a wider perspective. Within such a broad framework, it is possible to see where names such as Jane Austen and William Turner were in the time of Constable.

Constable In Love - Martin Gayford

Constable in Love was able to explain the years of love between John Constable and Mary Bicknell in detail through the letters left from these two. The families of Constable and Bicknell have also been mentioned a lot because it is not possible to explain the reasons why this couple could not get together for many years without their families. John and Mary have to wait many years before they can get married, and during this time, they have to write letters a lot. Meanwhile, we read the story of Constable’s development as a painter and his place in the British art scene.

Constable had not been accepted in the Royal Academy for many years; It is possible to see that he was an innovative painter for his time and the pain this situation caused. However, the painter does not give up painting the things he loves and doing his own thing despite everything. Thanks to the exquisite details of the 19th century, we understand the painter’s life better, and we see more clearly what kind of person the painter is thanks to his relationship with Mary Bicknell and finally his marriage.

…as he lived, surrounded by art, for the walls of his little attic were covered with engravings, and his feet nearly touched a print of the beautiful moonlight by Rubens.

Constable In Love

Constable In Love is a delightful book for those interested in painting and artists and those who enjoy reading biographies. Enjoy!

constable in love
Cloud Study, Hampstead, Tree at Right, 11 September 1821

The sky is the source of light in nature and it governs everything. 

Constable In Love, John Constable, 1821
Constable In Love - Martin Gayford

Constable In Love

Constable In Love: Art critic Martin Gayford, author of The Yellow House, brings the Regency period to life in Constable in Love: Love, Landscape and the Making of a Great Painter his account of the life of English Romantic painter John Constable.

Love, not landscape, was the making of Constable…

John Constable and Maria Bicknell might have been in love but their marriage was a most unlikely prospect. Constable was a penniless painter who would not sacrifice his art for anything, while Maria’s family frowned on such a penurious union. For seven long years the couple were forced to correspond and meet clandestinely.

But it was during this period of longing that Constable developed as a painter. And by the time they’d overcome all obstacles to their marriage, he was on the verge of being recognised as a genius.

Martin Gayford brings alive the time of Jane Austen in telling the tremendous story of Constable’s formative years, as well as this love affair’s tragic conclusion which haunted the artist’s final paintings.

‘Constable In Love. Delightful…a small drama of love, frustration and despair played itself out with massive repercussions for the history of painting’ Financial Times

‘Gayford’s nuanced narrative throws much-needed fresh light, as well as real understanding, on both Constable’s painting and his love life’ Sunday Telegraph

‘A scrupulously observed tragical-comical tale’ Evening Standard

Martin Gayford is a celebrated art critic and journalist who has written for the Spectator and the Sunday Telegraph and is the current Chief European Art Critic for Bloomberg. In his other book The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles Gayford depicts the period in which artistic geniuses van Gogh and Gauguin shared a house in the small French town of Arles.

Martin Gayford

Martin Gayford studied philosophy at Cambridge, and art history at the Courtauld Institute of London University. He has written prolifically about art and jazz, contributing regularly to the Daily Telegraph and also to many art magazines and exhibition catalogues. He was art critic of the Spectator 1994-2002 and subsequently of the Sunday Telegraph before becoming chief art critic for Bloomberg News until 2013. He is now once again art critic for the Spectator.

His book about Van Gogh and Gauguin in Arles, The Yellow House (2005) was published in Britain and the USA to critical acclaim, and has been translated to date into five languages.

Constable in Love, a study of John Constable’s romance with Maria Bicknell, and their lives between 1809 and 1816 was published in 2009 by Penguin Fig Tree; he was also co-curator with Anne Lyles of the exhibition “John Constable Portraits” at the National Portrait Gallery and Compton Verney in 2009.

Martin Gayford
Martin Gayford

His portrait by Lucian Freud, “Man with a Blue Scarf” (2005) has been exhibited at the Correr Museum, Venice and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His book about posing for Lucian Freud, also entitled Man with a Blue Scarf, appeared in 2010.

A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney was published by Thames & Hudson in September 2011, and was followed by Michelangelo: His Epic Life in 2013. Rendez-vous with Art was published by Thames & Hudson in 2014, and co-authored with Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A History of Pictures: From Cave to Computer Screen was also co-authored with David Hockney, and was followed by Modernists & Mavericks:Bacon, Freud, Hockney & the London Painters in April 2018 and The Pursuit of Art the following year. His most recent book is Shaping the World, co-written with the sculptor Antony Gormley.

Martin Gayford is married, with two children, and lives in Cambridge, England. He can be found on Twitter at @MartinGayford.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Reading Challenge 2021

Books about Art and Artists

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