JOHN CONSTABLE, R.A.
Minna as Bo-Peep
Engraved: 'Little Roxalana' (Maria Louise ('Minna') Constable) by David Lucas, after John Constable, mezzotint, c.1845
Joseph Cahn (?)
La Salle University, Philadelphia
Sotheby’s, 15 November 1989 (75)
Private Collection, Ireland
Andrew Shirley, The Published Mezzotints of David Lucas after John Constable, R.A., 1930, No. 37
Graham Reynolds, The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, 1984, No. 20.88 A
This painting shows the artist's eldest daughter Maria Louise. Within the family she was affectionally known as Minna. The composition was engraved in mezzotint by David Lucas for the second edition of Leslie's Life of Constable, 1845. It was published with the title 'Little Roxalana'. This appears to be an invention by Leslie or Lucas, and the title 'Minna as Bo-Peep' presumably records the name under which it was known to Constable's family.
John Constable was father to three daughters, two of whom survived into adulthood. Maria Louisa ("Minna") 1819-1885 (first daughter, second child) Isabel 1822-1888 (second daughter, fourth child) Emily 1825-1839 (third daughter, fifth child). Minna was nine when in 1828 her mother died. She immediately stepped into her mother's shoes, teaching her younger brothers and sisters to read and write as well as occasionally collecting insects for her brother Charley. John Constable relied on Minna and loved her dearly. In 1831 he wrote of her:
"She is so orderly in all her plans, and so full of method, so lady-like by nature and so firm and yet so gentle that you cannot believe the influence this heavenly little monitor has on this whole house, but most of all on me, who watch all her dear ways with mingled smiles and tears."
- letter written in 1831 from John Constable to his friend and biographer CR Leslie.
Minna attended Miss Sophia Noble's School in Hampstead where she learnt music and dancing. She enjoyed reading romantic stories which Constable's friend, John Fisher thought 'morbid'. By giving her a prayer book to read instead, her father failed dismally in his efforts to stop her reading those romantic stories!
In the spring of 1832, Minna now aged twelve, became seriously ill with a severe cold and sore throat and Constable feared for her life and that of his other children. He wrote:
"My dear child is alarmingly ill, her pulse today is 150 … God knows how this will terminate. I am very anxious for the two other little dears (Charles and John) who must remain at school it not having been advisable to have them home … all our endeavour is to keep this most cruel disorder out of the way of my boys".
- note written in 1832 by John Constable to his friend and biographer CR Leslie.
To John Constable's enormous relief Maria recovered. Maria remained at the centre of her father's life and his family. She did not marry and died aged sixty five.
The charming oil study of Minna can be closely compared to one of Constable's intimate contemporaneous oil studies which shows his wife Maria with Minna and John Charles. It is thought that both studies were painted in their house in Keppel Street, Bloomsbury. The first phase of his marriage to Maria was Constable's period of greatest contentment. In the house they rented in Keppel Street, he wrote to Fisher that he had passed 'the five happiest & most interesting years of my life', adding, 'I got my children and my fame in that house, neither of which I would exchange with any other man'.