Norwich School

the name applied to a group of LANDSCAPE painters working in Norwich in the early 19th century associated with the Norwich Society founded by JOHN CROME in 1803 with the grandiloquent intention of ‘an Enquiry into the Rise, Progress and present state of Painting, Architecture and Sculpture, with a view to point out the Best Methods of Study to attain the Greater Perfection in these Arts’ The society, whose members included both professional and amateur painters, held annual exhibitions in the city 1805–25 and 1828–33 After Crome’s death the presidency was held by JOHN SELL COTMAN until his departure for London in 1834 The Norwich School was the first self-sustaining provincial artistic community and its survival is partly explained by the relative isolation and insularity of the Norfolk gentry and merchants who provided patronage both by purchasing paintings and by employing the artists as drawing masters for their wives and daughters A fashionable taste for antiquarian subjects also induced several members to take up printmaking

The Norwich Society of Artists was founded in 1803 by John Crome and Robert Ladbrooke as a club where artists could meet to exchange ideas Its aims were “an enquiry into the rise, progress and present state of painting, architecture, and sculpture, with a view to point out the best methods of study to attain the greater perfection in these arts” The society’s first meeting was in “The Hole in the Wall” tavern; two years later it moved to premises which allowed it to offer members work and exhibition space Its first exhibition opened in 1805, and was such a success that it became an annual event until 1825 The building was demolished but the society re-opened three years later, in 1828, as “The Norfolk and Suffolk Institution for the Promotion of the Fine Arts” at a different venue and exhibitions continued until 1833

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The leading light of the movement was John Crome who attracted many friends and pupils until his death in 1821 The mantle of leadership then fell on John Sell Cotman, a member of the society since 1807, who continued to keep the society together until he left Norwich for London in 1834 The society effectively ceased to exist from that date

The Norwich School’s great achievement was that a small group of self-taught working class artists were able to paint with vitality the hinterland surrounding Norwich, assisted by meagre local patronage Far from creating pastiches of the Dutch 17th century, Crome and Cotman, along with Joseph Stannard, established a school of landscape painting which deserves greater fame; the broad washes of Cotman’s water-colours anticipate French impressionism

One reason the Norwich School artists are not so well known as other painters of the period, notably Constable and Turner, is because the majority of their canvases were collected by the industrialist J J Colman (of Colman’s mustard fame), and have been on permanent display in Norwich Castle Museum since the 1880s This lack of wider exposure was remedied in 2001, when many of the school’s major works were exhibited outside Norwich for the first time at the Tate Gallery, London

In 1986 Norwich Castle museum acquired a late masterwork by John Crome entitled Back of New Mills Evening dated circa 1812-1819 It is interesting to note that its composition includes a small boy trailing a toy boat from the stern of a boat The identical motif occurs in Joseph Stannard’s masterwork Thorpe Water Frolic of 1828 Stannard had requested tuition in painting from Crome as a young man but Crome refused and Stannard broke away from the ‘Norwich School’, his relatives and friends never forgiving Crome for the snub to him Such was the intense rivalry between the major painters of the Norwich School