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Portrait of John Crome, by Michael William Sharp
22 December 1768
|Died||22 April 1821(aged 52)|
|Movement||Norwich School of painters|
John Crome (22 December 1768 – 22 April 1821) was an English landscape artist of the Romantic era, one of the principal artists and founding members of the Norwich School of painters. He lived in Norwich for all his life and most of his works are Norfolk landscapes.
He was sometimes known as Old Crome to distinguish him from his son John Berney Crome, who was also a well-known artist. His work is in the collections of major galleries, including the Tate Gallery and the Royal Academy in London. He is particularly well represented at the Norwich Castle Museum. He produced etchings and taught art.
John Crome was born on 22 December 1768 in Norwich and baptised on 25th December at St George's Church, Tombland, Norwich. He was the son of John Crome, a weaver, and his wife Elizabeth. After a period working as an errand boy for a doctor (from the age of twelve), he was apprenticed to Francis Whisler, a house, coach and sign painter.[note 1] At about this time he formed a friendship with Robert Ladbrooke, an apprentice printer, who also became a celebrated landscape painter. The pair shared a room and went on sketching trips in the fields and lanes around Norwich. They occasionally bought prints to copy.
Crome and Ladbrooke sold some of their work to a local printseller, 'Smith and Jaggars' of Norwich, and it was probably through the print-seller that Crome met Thomas Harvey of Old Catton, who helped him set to up as a drawing teacher. He had access to Harvey's art collection, which allowed him to develop his skills by copying the works of Gainsborough and Hobbema. Crome received further instruction and encouragement from Sir William Beechey R.A., whose house in London he frequently visited, and John Opie R.A..
In October 1792 Crome married Phoebe Berney. They produced two daughters and six sons. Two of his sons, John Berney Crome (1794–1842) and William Henry Crome (1806–67) were both notable landscape painters.
In 1803 Crome and Robert Ladbrooke formed the Norwich Society of Artists, a group that also included Robert Dixon, Charles Hodgson, Daniel Coppin, James Stark and George Vincent. Their first exhibition, in 1805, marked the start of the Norwich School of painters, the first art movement created outside London. Crome contributed twenty-two works to its first exhibition, held in 1805. He served as President of the Society several times and held the position at the time of his death. With the exception of the times when he made short visits to London, he had little or no communication with the great artists of his own time. He exhibited thirteen works at the Royal Academy between 1806 and 1818. He visited Paris in 1814, following the defeat of Napoleon, and later exhibited views of Paris, Boulogne, and Ostend. Most of his subjects were of scenes in Norfolk.
Crome was drawing master at Norwich School for many years. Several members of the Norwich School art movement were educated at the school and were taught by Crome, including James Stark and Edward Thomas Daniell. He also taught privately, his pupils including members of the influential Gurney family, whom he stayed with whilst in the Lake District in 1802.
He died at his house in Gildengate, Norwich, on 22 April 1821, and was buried in St. George's Church. On his death-bed he is said to have gasped, "Oh Hobbema, my dear Hobbema, how I have loved you". A memorial exhibition of more than 100 of his works was held in November that year by the Norwich Society of Artists.
Crome's Broad and nearby Crome's Farm in The Broads National Park are named after him. The area surrounding Heartsease is covered by the Crome ward and division on Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council respectively.
An incident in Crome's life was the subject of the one-act opera Twice in a Blue Moon by Phyllis Tate, to a libretto by Christopher Hassall: it was first performed in 1969. In the story Crome and his wife split one of his paintings in two to sell each half at the Norwich Fair.
His two main influences are considered to be Dutch 17th-century painting and the work of Wilson. Along with John Constable (1776–1837), Crome was one of the earliest English artists to represent identifiable species of trees, rather than generalised forms. His works, renowned for their originality and vision, were inspired by direct observation of the natural world combined with a comprehensive study of old masters.
Art historian Andrew Hemingway has identified a theme of leisure in Crome's work, citing particularly his works depicting the beach at Great Yarmouth, and the River Wensum in his native Norwich. An example of the latter is the oil painting Boys Bathing on the River Wensum, Norwich, which was painted in 1817. Although catalogued by the Yale Center for British Art with an alternative title of View on the Wesum at Thorpe, which lies to the east of Norwich, other studies suggest it depicts a scene at New Mills, to the west of Norwich, the site of several of Crome's works.
Hemingway, Andrew (2016). Landscape between Ideology and the Aesthetic: Marxist Essays on British Art and Art Theory, 1750–1850. BRILL. p. 302. ISBN 9789004269019.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1885–1900 Dictionary of National Biography's article about John Crome.|