Constable, W. G. (William George), 1887-1976

Variant names

Hide Profile

W.G. Constable (1887-1976) was an art historian and curator from Cambridge, Mass.

From the description of Oral history interview with W.G. Constable, 1972 July -1973 June [sound recording]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 276394203

Art historian, curator; Cambridge, Mass. Died 1976.

From the description of Oral history interview with W.G. Constable, 1972 July -1973 June. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122291584

Art historian, curator; Boston, Massachusetts.

From the description of W.G. Constable photograph and clipping, [undated]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82229357

Epithet: Director Courtauld Institute

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000208.0x00002a

Art historian; museum curator.

Born in Derby, England, and studied for the bar at Cambridge University. Following World War I military service, he decided to pursue art instead of law. For three years, he attended the Slade School and the Bartlett School of Architecture. In 1923, he joined the National Gallery, becoming Assistant Director in 1929, but accepted the position of Director of the Courtauld Institute the following year. In 1938, Constable became Curator of Paintings at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts until his retirement in 1957. W.G. Constable was a distant relative of the early 19th century British painter, John Constable.

From the description of W.G. Constable papers, 1905-1981. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122394526

Constable, William George (1887-1976), art historian and gallery director, was born at 17 Gerard Street, Derby, on 27 October 1887, the elder child and only son of William George Samuel Constable and his wife, Remeliah Isabella Webb. The celebrated painter John Constable belonged to the same family although the relationship, never precisely established, was not very close.

Constable attended Derby School, of which his father was headmaster, before going up to St John's College, Cambridge. From Cambridge he went to London and, joining the Inner Temple, read for the bar, to which he was called in 1914. But the direction of his career was entirely changed after a horrific experience in 1916: while serving as an officer in the Sherwood Foresters, he was buried alive by the explosion of a shell near him in the trenches. his batman dug him out, but he was subsequently invalided out of the army.

It was during his long convalescence that Constable decided to give up law and to look to the arts for a living. He enrolled as a student at the Slade School of Fine Art. During his Slade years, he met a wide range of artists, including J. S. Sargent, Jacob Epstein, Wyndham Lewis, Degas, and Roger Fry. He became a competent but never a very interesting painter, as he himself recognized, so in 1922 he began to work as a tour guide at the Wallace Collection, and soon afterwards started to write art criticism for the New Statesman and the Saturday Review. The keeper, D. S. MacColl, took a kindly interest in him, associating him with the work he himself was doing on artworks in the collection and suggesting Canaletto and his works as subjects for research.

Late in 1923 Constable moved to the National Gallery, where he was to remain for eight years, the last two as assistant director. Through visits on behalf of the estates duty office, he built up an impressive knowledge of British private collections, which he supplemented with a systematic examination of provincial art galleries and museums. Soon after the First World War he had established a friendship with Bernard Berenson; he now built up contacts with continental art historians and curators. He would probably have succeeded Augustus Daniel as director of the gallery, but in 1931 he was persuaded to become the first director of the newly formed Courtauld Institute of Art in the University of London, which opened in the following year. Here he embarked on an ambitious academic programme. At this date, no British university offered a degree course in art history, and Constable decided to introduce a comprehensive and wide-ranging course to remedy this omission. The British ignorance of art appalled him, and, with W. E. Williams, he was involved in the 'Art for the People' project, which aimed to send exhibitions to previously unused venues. He recruited an impressive body of lecturers for the institute, including Roger Fry, Kenneth Clark, and E. K. Waterhouse, and travelled widely to act as an ambassador for the Courtauld. In 1933 the Warburg Institute became attached to the Courtauld - bringing in such experts as Rudolf Wittkower - and in 1934 a scientific department and laboratory was set up. By that date Constable was experiencing difficulties with the governing body, whom he believed to be more concerned with the maintenance of numbers than of the highest academic standards. Constable was not prepared to compromise, and in early 1937, to the consternation of his friends and many of the students, he resigned.

From 1935 to 1937 Constable was Slade professor of fine arts at Cambridge in succession to Fry; he was then offered the curatorship of painting at the Museum of Fine Arts at Boston. Thus in March 1938 the Constables set sail for 'the other Cambridge', in Massachusetts. Although he never renounced his British citizenship, it was to remain their home for the rest of his life. On 29 May 1926 he had married Olivia (b.1901/2), daughter of Arthur Carson Roberts, of Chelsea, legal adviser to the Ministry of Health; they had two sons, John and Giles.

Constable held the curatorship of paintings at Boston until October 1957: almost twenty years. Constable was an excellent administrator, but his work as an art historian proved more memorable. He wrote two major books: 'Richard Wilson', which appeared in 1953, and 'Canaletto', published in two volumes in 1962, both of which remain standard texts on the artists. Constable's other books include 'The Painter's Workshop' (1954), 'John Flaxman' (1927), 'Art History and Connoisseurship' (1938), and 'Art Collecting in the United States' (1964). He also compiled or edited, with punctilious accuracy, a long series of exhibition and other catalogues.

In his personal relations 'W. G.', as he was universally known, even to his wife, was unfailingly kind, generous, and approachable. Yet at heart he was a shy and private man, not easy to know, for all his outward geniality and friendliness. He received many honours. They included fellowships of the Society of Antiquaries and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary fellowship of St John's College, Cambridge (1956), and honorary degrees of three universities; he was also made a chevalier of the Legion d'honneur, and commendatore of the Crown of Italy. He died at Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 3 February 1976.

Please note - this description is taken from: Alec Clifton-Taylor, 'Constable, William George (1887-1976)', rev. Rosemary Mitchell, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

[http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30960, accessed 21 Sept 2011]

From the guide to the W. G. Constable Archive, c 1920s-1970s, (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Papers of John Coolidge and Agnes Mongan, 1909-2006 Harvard Art Museums. Archives
referencedIn Berenson, Bernard and Mary. Papers, 1880-2002, 1880-2002 Biblioteca Berenson, Villa I Tatti - The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies
referencedIn Sir William Rothenstein correspondence and other papers, 1887-1957. Houghton Library
referencedIn Julius S. Held papers, ca. 1918-1999 Getty Research Institute
referencedIn Coolidge, John, 1913-1995. Papers of John Coolidge and Agnes Mongan, 1909-2006. Harvard University Art Museum
creatorOf Constable, W. G. (William George), 1887-1976. W.G. Constable photograph and clipping, [undated]. Archives of American Art
creatorOf Somerset, D. R. (David R.). Correspondence regarding purchase of paintings : 1949-1954, 1955-1956 May. University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Harriet Irving Library
creatorOf W. G. Constable Archive, c 1920s-1970s The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
creatorOf Vol. LXIII B. 1933 -1939.H. Boyes Watson, Director of Education, Southend: Correspondence with A. Mansbridge: 1934: Signed.Archie Edward Heath, Professor of Philosophy, University College, Swansea: Correspondence with A. Mansbridge: 1930, 1933: Sign..., 1933-1939 British Library
referencedIn Pease, Arthur Stanley, 1881-1964. Correspondence and compositions, 1870-1963 Houghton Library
referencedIn Pacey, Desmond, 1917-. LeRoux Smith LeRoux : [1954-57]. University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Harriet Irving Library
referencedIn Jewish Theological Seminary of America. General Files. Records, 1902-1972. 1940-1972 (bulk). Ocean County College Library, OCC Library
creatorOf Back, Barbara. Correspondence regarding the purchase of paintings : Oct. 1958-Mar. 1960; A-L. University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Harriet Irving Library
referencedIn Berenson, Bernard, 1865-1959. Bernard and Mary Berenson, Papers (1880-2002, bulk 1880-1959) : a finding aid. Houghton Library
referencedIn Forbes, Edward Waldo, 1873-1969. Papers, 1867-2005. Harvard University Art Museum
referencedIn LEE, Arthur Hamilton, Viscount Lee of Fareham (1868-1947), [1878-1954] Courtauld Institute of Art
creatorOf Allcorn, John H. Correspondence regarding purchase of paintings : 1956 June - 1957 Feb. Case 25, File 1. University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Harriet Irving Library
creatorOf Davies, Rupert, 1916-1976. Art - Miscellaneous : 1955-1958. University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Harriet Irving Library
referencedIn George Sarton additional papers, 1901-1956 Houghton Library
creatorOf CODEX SINAITICUS PAPERS. Vol. I (ff. 534 + 508*, 509*). Papers; 7 Aug. 1933-5 Jul 1934.William Cosmo Gordon Lang, Baron Lang; Archbishop of Canterbury: Correspondence with Sir G. F. Hill: 1933-1934: Partly signed.James Ramsay MacDonald, Prime Ministe... British Library
referencedIn Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965. Papers, 1903-2005 Harvard Art Museums. Archives
creatorOf Wheelwright, John, 1897-1940. Papers, 1920-1940, Part II (Bullock-Levine). Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
creatorOf Constable, W. G. (William George), 1887-1976. W.G. Constable papers, 1905-1981. Archives of American Art
referencedIn Howe, M. A. De Wolfe (Mark Antony De Wolfe), 1864-1960. Additional papers, 1880-1959 Houghton Library
referencedIn Forbes, Edward W. (Edward Waldo), 1873-1969. Papers, 1867-2005 Harvard Art Museums. Archives
referencedIn William Mills Ivins papers 1878-1964 Archives of American Art
referencedIn Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965. Papers, 1903-2005. Harvard University Art Museum
referencedIn Houghton Library printed book provenance file, A-D Houghton Library
creatorOf Bassett, David. Correspondence regarding purchase of paintings : 1957 Mar.-1958 Nov., A-L. University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Harriet Irving Library
referencedIn Papers of John Coolidge and Agnes Mongan, 1909-2006 Harvard Art Museums. Archives
referencedIn Lyonel Feininger papers, 1883-1960. Houghton Library
creatorOf Carr, Thelma. General Correspondence A - L : 1955. University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Harriet Irving Library
creatorOf Constable, W. G. (William George), 1887-1976,. Oral history interview with W.G. Constable, 1972 July -1973 June. Archives of American Art
referencedIn William James Jr. papers, 1857-1960 (inclusive), 1911-1959 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Defenbacher, D. S. (Daniel S.), 1906-1986. Papers, 1935-1951 (bulk 1940-1950). Walker Art Center Library
creatorOf Constable, W. G. (William George), 1887-1976,. Oral history interview with W.G. Constable, 1972 July -1973 June [sound recording]. Archives of American Art
creatorOf William Mills Ivins papers 1878-1964 Archives of American Art
creatorOf Constable, W. G. (William George), 1887-1976. Correspondence to Van Wyck Brooks, 1941-1944. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn Walter Gropius papers in the Bauhaus-Archiv, ca. 1919-1937. Houghton Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Berenson, Bernard, 1865-1959. person
associatedWith Berenson, Mary, 1864-1945 person
associatedWith Brown, Robert F., person
associatedWith Canaletto, 1697-1768. person
associatedWith Constable, John., 1776-1837 person
associatedWith Coolidge, John, 1913-1995. person
associatedWith Defenbacher, D. S. (Daniel S.), 1906-1986. person
correspondedWith Feininger, Lyonel, 1871-1956 person
associatedWith Flaxman, John., 1755-1826 person
associatedWith Forbes, Edward Waldo, 1873-1969. person
correspondedWith Gropius, Walter, 1883-1969 person
associatedWith Held, Julius Samuel, 1905- person
associatedWith Houghton Library. corporateBody
correspondedWith Howe, M. A. De Wolfe (Mark Antony De Wolfe), 1864-1960 person
associatedWith Ivins, William Mills, 1881-1961. person
correspondedWith James, William, 1882-1961 person
associatedWith Jewish Theological Seminary of America. General Files. corporateBody
associatedWith Lee, Arthur Hamilton, 1868-1947 person
associatedWith Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich, 1870-1924. person
correspondedWith Pease, Arthur Stanley, 1881- person
correspondedWith Rothenstein, William, Sir, 1872-1945 person
associatedWith Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965. person
correspondedWith Sarton, George, 1884-1956 person
associatedWith Wheelwright, John, 1897-1940. person
associatedWith William Mills Ivins person
associatedWith Wilson, Richard., 1713-1782 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Massachusetts--Cambridge
Massachusetts--Cambridge
United States
Subject
Museum curators
Museum curators
World War, 1939-1945
Art, Modern
Art, American
Art
Art
Art
Art historians
Art historians
Artists
Art museums
Art treasures in war
Occupation
Activity

Person

Birth 1887-10-27

Death 1976-02-03

Britons

English

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6db84cm

Ark ID: w6db84cm

SNAC ID: 31688980