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 William Constable  (1783 - 1861)

/ KAHN-stuh-bull/
About: William Constable
 

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Lived/Active: England/United States      Known for: watercolor topographical views

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William Constable
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
William Constable was essentially a topographical water-colour artist. He left behind a legacy of drawings and paintings executed both in America and in England. Evidence of his surveying background is to be seen in his early paintings.

He was born in Horley, Surrey, the third son of a miller and poet. At the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed to the High Constable of Lewes, one Henry Browne. Browne was a wholesale and retail draper as well as being an artist and scientist, and he encouraged his young apprentice in his obvious talents. At the end of his apprenticeship William and his elder brother, Daniel, started a draper's shop in Brighton with financial backing from their father. This shop prospered as the two tall, good-looking young men were excellent businessmen. They were also both fond of a practical joke. William employed his design talents in producing a map-card of Brighton, which was a map of the town on one side with their business card on the other.

In 1806 they sold the business and travelled to America where they spent two years roaming up the Hudson river, along the Mohawk river to Niagara Falls, down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. From here they travelled overland to Washington where they met Thomas Jefferson. During these two years William painted many of the passing scenes.

On their return to England in 1808, they helped their father rebuild the family water mill before launching their own careers. In 1815 William became surveyor to the local highway authority in which position he remained for fifteen years, during which time he married Jemima Mott. In 1829 he was left a childless widower, so he then specialised in a career as a Flour Manufacturer and also became interested in the rapid growth of the railways, finally becoming a surveyor of railway lines.

In 1838 he travelled to America en route to survey the line for the Jamaican Railroad but while travelling he heard that the line had run into financial difficulties and was postponed. In 1839 he returned to England where in 1841 he bought a license from Richard Beard for the new art of photography and set up his studio at 57 Marine Parade, Brighton, Sussex. Here he became the first person to photograph Prince Albert and many of the nobility.

In 1858 he finished a two-volume book of his travels in America during the years of 1806-1808, each page illustrated with a scaled down water-colour of his original paintings. He exhibited a Compensating Flywheel at his own stand at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851; he was also the photographer of the various stages of the Smallpox vaccine pustules at another stand. Apart from a few drawing lessons in New York in 1806 he had little formal training.


Biography submitted November 2004 by Jennifer Claire Brynteson Smith, aka Claire Constable, three times great niece to the above.

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