William Constable was born to a working-class family in the Surrey, England village of Horley on April 5, 1783. His father James was a mill owner, and after having little in the way of formal schooling, Mr. Constable began working with his father, learning how to mill flour and weave cloth.
At 14, Mr. Constable left his family home to become the apprentice of Henry Browne, who operated a drapery shop in the Sussex town of Lewes. Mr. Browne was a "jack-of-all-trades" and became the boy's mentor, introducing him to the printing press and encouraging Mr. Constable's interests in art and science.
In the spring of 1802, Mr. Constable moved to Brighton, where he assisted his brother Daniel in his drapery business. Four years' later, the brothers sold the successful store and used the money to pay for their extensive two-year journey to America, the first of several such trips Mr. Constable would make. At this time, he began sketching landscapes, which were later transformed into impressive watercolor paintings.
After returning to England, Mr. Constable returned to Horley where he married Jemima Mott in 1816. The couple had no children, and Mr. Constable never remarried after his wife's death in 1829. He spent the next few years traveling and when he settled in England for good, Mr. Constable began taking a great interest in the relatively new photographic process known as daguerreotype. Richard Beard held the only English patent, but after a period of intense negotiations Mr. Constable secured from him a daguerreotype license for $1000.
This license enabled Mr. Constable to have a monopoly on producing portraits that featured the daguerreotype process. He opened the first portrait studio in Brighton on November 8, 1841. Within 'The Photographic Institution," there was "The Blue Room," in which subjects were seated upon a revolving type apparatus that enabled Mr. Constable to achieve the proper lighting for his portraits.
The name William Constable became famous throughout England when he photographed Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, for the first time in March 1842. Shortly thereafter, the Prince awarded him the position of Artist in Daguerreotype, and he secured the prestigious patronage of the Duke of Devonshire. Mr. Constable became a widely sought-after photographer because of his charismatic personality and ability to make his subjects feel comfortable.
After two decades as Brighton's leading photographer, 78-year-old William Constable died in the early morning hours of Sunday, December 22, 1861. He was buried next to his beloved Jemima in his hometown of Horley.
Ref: History of Photography, Volume 15, Number 3, Autumn 1991, pp. 236-239.
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