Richard Constable (C2 1945-50)

MY friend and colleague Richard Constable, who has died aged 83, was the great-great-grandson of the landscape painter John Constable, and was himself an artist who did a great deal to further his ancestor’s reputation and legacy.

Born in Lewes, East Sussex, to John, a military officer, and Eileen (nee Saltmarsh), Richard was brought up on a farm in Devon. Time spent on Dartmoor made him a keen naturalist, with a passion for collecting and breeding butterflies and moths. Another early interest, which was one that had run in the family for generations, was painting, and in 1945 Richard won an art scholarship to Marlborough College in Wiltshire.

He took his entomological equipment and paints with him when posted on national service to Korea (1951-52). Although he was not cut out for military life – on one occasion he inadvertently directed his fire at the officers’ mess rather than towards the enemy – the experience proved formative. The landscapes he observed in Korea (and in Japan when on leave) were to prove a powerful influence on his painting in subsequent years.

After national service Richard taught art at Saxmundham secondary school in Suffolk for nine years. In 1967 he gave up teaching to concentrate on painting full time, producing a substantial body of work in gouache with an oriental flavour that featured, for example, junks, exotic flowers and insects. His paintings were exhibited in galleries from Suffolk to Singapore, and were widely collected, especially in the 1970s and early 80s.

Richard was fascinated by, and hugely knowledgeable about, his family history, and there was nothing he loved more than showing family memorabilia to visiting researchers and enthusiasts. He did all he could to bolster his great predecessor’s artistic renown. In 1987, when the Clore Gallery was opened at the Tate in London for the fuller representation of JMW Turner, Richard wrote a letter to the Times suggesting it was time for his own ancestor to be accorded an equivalent honour in the UK’s primary gallery of British art. Sadly, the idea has yet to gain any traction.

Richard is survived by his second wife, Valerie (nee Zelle), whom he married in 1970; by their children, Sasha and Ricky; and by four children, Yvonne, Julia, Caroline and Stephen, from his first marriage, to Elaine (nee Good), which ended in divorce.

As featured in The Guardian