Saturday, September 15, 2007

John Constable Portrait of Harriet Rhudde 1818

John Constable (1776-1837) One of England's best landscape painters and a member of the Royal Academy. Profile of Harriet Rhudde painted in watercolor on card. John Constable married Harriet Rhudde's niece, Maria Bicknell, and this portrait was probably painted in East Bergholt in 1818. The high back bonnet she wears was popular between 1815 and 1825, and the bonnet together with the details of the dress are consistent with a portrait date of 1818. The hallmarked frame engraved "Harriet Rhudde Died 1854" and housing the profile and white silk moire reverse under glass was made by C&W Pt. and assayed in London in 1818.

The wealthy Rev. Dr. Durand Rhudde (1735-1819), married Mary Shergold (1738-1811) in 1760 and had a son about whom seemingly nothing is known and two daughters: Marria Elizabeth born August, 22 1761 and Harriet whose birth date is unknown. Dr. Rhudde recieved a Doctorate of Divinity from King's College, Cambridge, and in 1763, he became vicar of St. Thomas, Southwark. According to the May 1819 edition of The Gentleman's Magazine, "Dr. Rhudde was a zealous and conscientious Divine, and throughout the long period of his existence lived much respected and esteemed." He followed in the footsteps of his father John Rhudde (1704-1778), who was vicar of Portesham and Weymouth pictured below in a 1757 mezzotint after (Solomon?) Williams held in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

On June 1, 1795, Harriet married Edward Farnham (1753-1835) of Quorndon House in Leicestershire. Farnham was a wealthy landowner and the only brother of the Countess of Denibigh. They had a son, Edward Basil, and two daughters, Sarah Ann and Mary Eliza. In 1815 Edward Farnham became High Sheriff of Leicestershire. Harriet died on July 27, 1854. Her sister, Maria Elizabeth, married Charles Bicknell in 1787 at St. George Hanover Square, London and had a daughter, Maria Elizabeth Bicknell. John Constable proposed marriage to Miss Bicknell in 1811, but her grandfather, Dr. Rhudde objected to the union. That same year Constable painted a water color on paper portrait of East Bergholt Church (now housed in The Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, UK; pictured below), where Rhudde had been rector since 1786, and his mother gifted the picture to Dr. Rhudde. The elderly reverend remained unswayed and sent payment for the painting along with a letter of gratitude in order to dissolve any obligation to the painter.
Maria's father object to his daughter marrying a painter with little money and few prospects, and Dr. Rhudde threatened to disinherit the Bicknells, if they were unable to prevent the marriage. Harriet Rhudde Farnham likewise appears to have been against the marriage either because she shared her fathers opinion or for mercenary reasons - a change to the Reverend's will would have benefited her children. John earned money through this long interval of courtship by painting portraits, which held little interest for him, and which he viewed as an unwanted distraction from landscape painting. In a letter to Maria, he complained of his commission to copy the portrait of Lady Heathcote, "she will not sit to me though she wants many alterations from the original--but I can have prints, drawings and miniatures, locks of hair to do without end." Despite the objections of her father, aunt, and maternal grandfather, Maria and John married on October 2, 1816 at Saint Martin In the Fields, Westminster, London. John painted the portrait of his fiancee shortly before their marriage (pictured below). Within in a year or two, the tensions between the Contsables and the Rhudde and Bicknell families appear to have calmed significantly. John traveled to East Bergholt in 1818 to sell his father's house, and he brought his painting supplies intent on garnering portrait commissions for additional income. While there, he likely painted this portrait of "Aunt Farnham" in an effort to further improve family relations. Maria and John had seven children and inherited £20,000 from the estate of Charles Bicknell upon his death in 1828. Unfortunately, Maria died of consumption on 23 November of that same year. John mourned his wife for the remainder of his life, and described her as his "departed Angel...a devoted, sensible, industrious religious mother who was all affection."

John Constable Self Portrait, Pencil on Paper, 1806; Tate Collection

John Constable Portrait of Harriet Rhudde's niece, Maria Constable (nee Bicknell), Oil on Canvas, 1816; Tate Collection


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