DUNTHORNE, John (1770-1844)

1770 - 1844

Baptised at Great Whelnetham, Suffolk on 11 February 1770, eldest of four children of James Dunthorne (c.1725-1792) and his second wife, Ann née Mingay (c.1750–1832), who were married by licence on 20 October 1769. By 1782 the family were living in Hadleigh, Suffolk and little is known of John's education and early life until his marriage on 5 September 1793 at East Bergholt, Suffolk, to Hannah Bird (née Oxley), widow of a local plumber & glazier. Several years older than John, Hannah (1757/8–1819) had, according to John Constable's mother, arranged to take him in ‘from an advertisement, without a change of raiment or a shilling in his pocket & marry him, put him in possession of her house, furniture, [and] trade’. However unorthodox his entry into marriage and his trade, Dunthorne worked successfully as a plumber, glazier, and painter in East Bergholt throughout his life, occasionally serving as the village constable. Dunthorne lived and conducted his business from a house and shop adjacent to the home of John Constable a property owned by Constable's father. Although his social status precluded a formal relationship with the family, John established a close friendship with Constable, based on their shared interest in open-air landscape painting. That Dunthorne was an amateur is clear from the only painting definitely attributable to him, Flatford Lock (1814) but his skills were sufficiently developed to bring him employment in the less exalted sphere of inn signs and funeral hatchments and to lead to his being asked to help restore a historic seventeenth-century perspectival wall-painting in St Mary's Church, Hadleigh. Dunthorne's devotion to outdoor sketching and his practical knowledge of the materials and techniques of oil painting were a crucial source of encouragement and tuition for Constable who, prior to his move to London in 1799, was receiving little of either from anyone else. Dunthorne was subsequently the recipient of several of Constable's most revealing letters in which the struggling young artist not only shared his thoughts and feelings about landscape painting, but expressed his deep attachment to Dunthorne, whom he included among ‘those whose love and friendship I most value’. Despite the intimacy which had existed between Dunthorne and Constable, the friendship was summarily altered in 1816 after several years of pressure from the latter's family and future wife. Constable had advised Dunthorne about his ‘perverse and evil ways’ however the friendship was later resumed. Dunthorne outlived his wife and four children and died in East Bergholt of cancer on 13 October 1844 and buried at St Mary's Church, East Bergholt six days later. The 'Ipswich Journal' of 19 October 1844 reported: ‘he was a man of great ability, and of undoubted integrity; he was highly respected, and his departure sincerely regretted’. A sale of his effects included a remarkable collection of scientific books, optical and musical instruments, paintings, drawings, and prints. He left his estate, including two cottages, to his twin grand-daughters. Two other artists named Dunthorne (mistakenly identified in the Dictionary of National Biography and in the standard references as John) lived and worked in Colchester and may have been distantly related to the East Bergholt Dunthornes.




Works by This Painter