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John Crome -Mousehold Heath Photo © Tate LR

A Passion for Landscape: Rediscovering John Crome at Norwich Castle

The exhibition A Passion for Landscape: Rediscovering John Crome celebrates the work of one of Britain’s great Romantic artists. It opens at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery on 17 May running until 5 September 2021.

Exhibition curator Dr Giorgia Bottinelli, Curator of Historic Art, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery said: “This is the first major exhibition dedicated to John Crome since 1968. It provides a long-overdue opportunity to rediscover this largely neglected but nonetheless great artist and conclusively reinstates Crome’s national reputation by re-evaluating his important role in the history of British landscape painting”.

John Crome (1768-1821) grew up in Norwich. The son of a journeyman weaver, he received no formal artistic training, learning to paint and mix colours through an apprenticeship as a coach and sign painter. As an artist and teacher, he was held in great esteem, and his reputation soon stretched beyond the confines of East Anglia. He exhibited at London’s Royal Academy and the British Institution and founded the first art society in Britain outside the capital, the Norwich School of Artists, which later became internationally known as the Norwich School of Painting.

 John Crome-Yarmouth Jetty © Norfolk Museums Service LR

While Crome looked to Old Masters for inspiration, notably 17th century Dutch landscape painters such as Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709) and also the Welsh landscape artist Richard Wilson RA (1714–1782), his interpretation was modern, original and distinctly his own. A careful observer of the natural world, Crome rooted his work in his local surroundings.

He provided a snapshot of the Norfolk landscape, often focusing, with rapid brushstrokes, on the quiet corners, capturing small streams, creaking gates and ancient, gnarled trees. From the earliest days, Crome kept his compositions simple; landscapes were rarely over populated thus giving an overriding impression of light and air. Not surprisingly as a city dweller, views of Norwich itself also feature in his oeuvre, as did the Norfolk coast. Aside from regular business trips to London, Crome was not a great traveller, only making a couple of trips to the Lake District, as well as to France in 1814, both recorded in a number of watercolours and finished oil paintings.

Crome’s career was relatively short spanning less than 20 years. He was not a prolific artist, earning his living primarily as a drawing master, teaching at Norwich Grammar School, and tutoring a considerable number of well-to-do pupils both in and around Norwich and Great Yarmouth. Many pupils or their parents were members of the solid middle class - the likes of merchants and bankers – who in turn became his patrons.

Although some contemporary critics felt his style too modern, others appreciated its freshness, boldness and sensitive perception. As his work became more sought after, not only was his genre imitated and emulated by his pupils and followers, but fraudulent copies also began to appear. Consequently, in recent years, Crome’s reputation has somewhat suffered even though at the height of his popularity in the early 20th century, the Keeper of the National Gallery Charles Collins Baker described him, John Constable and JMW Turner in the same breath as the ‘three greatest masters’ of English landscape painting.

Today John Crome remains an enigma. He never signed his oil paintings, there are no surviving sketchbooks and very few of his letters still exist. There has been little research and no new monographs published for some 50 years. Prior to the exhibition in 1968, held at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth, the last exhibition of any note was at Norwich Gallery in 1921.

This new exhibition, features approximately 90 works including paintings, watercolours and etchings, all of which demonstrate Crome’s proficiency and skill in varied media. Alongside Norwich Castle’s own pre-eminent collection of works by John Crome, the exhibition will present loans from private and public collections, including from Tate, the V&A, Fitzwilliam Museum and Manchester City Galleries. These are presented in six distinctive categories: Early Days, Pupils and Patrons, City Life, Quiet Corners, Coast and Light and Air, and seek to show all aspects of his work and inspiration.

The headline sponsor is The Friends of the Norwich Museums who are celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2021, making them the oldest independent museum friends association in the UK.

Norwich Castle

John Crome-The Yare at Thorpe, Norwich © Norfolk Museums Service

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