CROME, John
(b. 1768, Norwich, d. 1821, Norwich)

Biography

English painter, printmaker and collector, active in the city of Norwich. The son of a journeyman weaver, he was apprenticed to a coach and sign painter, Francis Whisler, from 1783 to 1790. He presumably continued in this trade and during the 1790s consolidated his artistic training.

Early local influences upon Crome included William Beechey and John Opie, but the friendship of Thomas Harvey, a patron, collector and amateur artist, was the most significant. Harvey's collection included works by Dutch 17th-century masters such as Aelbert Cuyp, Jacob van Ruisdael and Meindert Hobbema, and also works by Gainsborough and Richard Wilson. The Dutch influence was strong throughout Crome's career.

The local press credited Crome early for his role as a founder of the Norwich Society of Artists in 1803 and the Norwich school of painters. Crome's monochromatic paintings, such as his magnificent View of Carrow Abbey, near Norwich (1805; Norwich, Castle Museum), did not find universal acceptance. Although he later lightened his palette his work was criticized for its 'unfinished' appearance even towards the end of his career.

Crome was a major artist of the Norwich school and a representative of the transition from the 18th century Picturesque tradition to the Romantic approach to landscape. His work is noted for its bold use of space, attentiveness to local detail and broad handling of paint. His subject-matter was invariably the local landscape, including buildings and intimate scenes on the rivers Yare and Wensum, such as Back of the New Mills, Norwich (c. 1814-17) and New Mills: Men Wading (c. 1812; both Norwich, Castle Museum).

Crome's sons, the most talented of whom was John Berney Crome (1794-1842), painted in his father's manner and continued his teaching practice, although they did not achieve the same success as their father.

The Norwich School of painters, founded by John Crome and Robert Ladbrooke in 1803 in Norwich, was the first provincial art movement in Britain. Artists of the school were inspired by the natural beauty of the Norfolk landscape and owed some influence to the work of landscape painters of the Dutch Golden Age such as Hobbema and Ruisdael. The leading figure of the school was John Crome until his death in 1821. The society was kept together by John Sell Cotman until 1834 when Cotman left Norwich for London. The society effectively ceased to exist from that date.

Norwich School artists included amateurs as well as professionals, many of whom practiced the avant-garde method of plein air painting. The Norwich School remains an important historical element in the larger tradition of English landscape painting.