CHANGING PLACES : Wivenhoe Park, Colchester

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The Independent Culture
After a protracted courtship, owing to opposition from his family, John Constable finally decided to marry his sweetheart, Maria Bicknell, in 1816. One of his admirers, Major General Rebow, knew that the painter was short of money and therefore commissioned him to produce a painting of his 200-acre country seat in Wivenhoe, Essex.

Constable simply stood outside and painted straight on to the canvas without any preliminary sketches, producing a faithful picture. He got on well with the Rebow family, but they did insist that their grotto and deer park were represented. The painter had to add strips on either side of the original work - the left-hand join, for instance, was discreetly hidden by means of the black cow.

Today, Wivenhoe Park seems barely to have changed. The house has been remodelled since Constable's day and was encased in Victorian Tudor red brick in the 1840s. A new dwelling has been built on the water but is skilfully disguised by the trees. The park in which cows grazed, Constable painted and Prince Albert reviewed the troops at the end of the Crimean War seems to have survived untouched.

But turn around and stand with your back to the house and lake and you will be confronted by the soulless ugly concrete blocks that have housed the University of Essex since the Sixties.

The Major General would be justifiably livid that the view from his drawing room windows had been so ruined.

Andrew John Davies