A Century of British Painters

By Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXV
OLD CROME AND THE Norwich SCHOOL

THE landscape painters of whose art we have hitherto treated were men, whatsoever their birth or origin, who eventually established themselves in London to take part in the fierce struggle for reputation with which artists have to contend in that great city. We have now to notice the labours of a painter born in a county town far distant from London, where he chose to remain, seeking fame in his own lesser world, satisfied to be first there rather than second in the metropolis. John Crome (generally called Old Crome to distinguish him from his son, who also became an artist) was born in Norwich on 22 December 1768. He was the son of a journeyman weaver, and first saw the light in a mean public-house in that city. R. N. Bacon of Norwich tells us that he could hardly be said to have enjoyed even the common instruction of the most ordinary schools. At twelve years of age he was placed as a servant in the house of Dr. Rigby, where his principal duties consisted in carrying out the medicines prescribed and prepared by the doctor. He was a boy of a lively and enterprising disposition, and when of the suitable age apprenticed himself to Francis Whisler, a house-and sign-painter of Norwich; partly, it is said, moved by a love of art and a desire to make himself acquainted, however roughly, with art processes.

Thus far, then, we find the future painter wholly without those advantages which now lie at the doors of people of all ranks. Day and night schools for elementary education abound in all cities, and there are few towns which do not--none which cannot--have a well-appointed school of art, wherein the artisan and the mechanic, the tradesman, and the children of the resident gentry, may obtain sound instruction in the rudiments of art, and be taught to overcome the difficulties of execution which beset the beginner. In Crome's time this was not the case. Before the age of railroads, Norfolk and its capital city were outlying districts as it were; rarely visited by the curious--rarely subject to change or improvement. The city itself was picturesque, full of antiquarian interest, and seemed as if it had slept while other cities of the kingdom were up and at work. The lanes in the suburbs, the banks of the river, the heaths, the commons, were wild, untrimmed, and picturesque; the old labourer's cottage

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