With Mr Constable’s kind regards...
by Elenor Ling
On our last Walk with the Suffolk ramblers through East Bergholt, we stopped at St Mary the Virgin. Without a bell tower, the church is very different in appearance to some of its close neighbours in Dedham, Stratford St Mary or Stoke by Nayland. Its bells, apparently the heaviest set of five bells currently rung in the country, are housed in a bell cage. Constable’s parents are buried at the rear of the churchyard, as near as they could have been placed to their home (which was demolished in the 1840s).
The church was open and we went inside to admire the interior. Two of our guest walkers noticed before I did that there are two framed ‘English Landscape’ mezzotints on the East wall, near the entrance, which feature handwritten dedications in Constable’s handwriting.
– Two framed ‘English Landscape’ mezzotints in St Mary the Virgin, East Bergholt
Often when works on paper are framed any annotations are covered up, but in the first, Constable’s note more or less corresponds to the area of the printed inscription, and in the second, a little peek hole has been cut to reveal his note in the corner:
To Miss E Arnott,
With Mr Constable’s kind regards / May 1833
The Arnott family crop up in the published record of Constable’s correspondence, in letters written by Constable but also to him by his brother and sister. CR Leslie, Constable’s friend and first biographer, referred to Miss Arnott as the aunt of Constable’s wife, Maria Bicknell, who ‘lived at Spring Grove, Worcester, where she allowed Maria and John’ to meet, but this is not correct (that person was Maria’s older half-sister, Sarah Laurens Skey, née Bicknell, 1775-1840).
The Arnotts were another well-connected Suffolk family, who knew the Constables and the Bicknells. In September 1816 in letter to his wife, Constable calls them Maria’s friends, but he soon got to know them as well, and his letters refer to invitations to dine at their house. In 1824 and 1826 there are records of Constable repaying Mrs. Arnott for deliveries of coal. The daughter, Miss Arnott, seemingly enjoyed John’s company to make individual visits to see him:
“Miss Arnott called to ask me, with her mother’s compliments, to dine there on Christmas Day. I told her I had a wife, and must needs to and see her.” – John Constable, 28 Nov 1825
Constable’s family members also mention the Arnotts in their letters: John passes on the daughter’s best wishes to his brother Abram in East Bergholt in 1819 and years later in 1833, in the last dated reference to the family, Abram writes to John from Flatford, ‘the Arnotts are kind and always are’. The dedication on the prints, published 1831, extend the range captured in the surviving letters: sent to Miss Arnott three months after Abram’s letter.
Constable selected as gifts two scenes he knew will please Miss E. Arnott: the Constable’s home, East Bergholt House (you can see our impression of this print below), and Mill Stream, in Flatford, showing a portion of Willy Lott’s house (William Lott (1761-1849), tenant farmer, is also buried in the churchyard at St Mary the Virgin). The prints could not be folded and sent as could letters. They are records of personal contact outside the traditional ‘correspondence’, perhaps delivered by hand in an unrecorded meeting of one of the Constable family members and their old friends.