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The Norwich School of Painters

In the early years of the 19th century Norwich developed its own school of artists who were influenced by each other and by the landscapes of Norfolk and Norwich.

Mousehold Heath by John Sell Cotman

Mousehold Heath by John Sell Cotman

The founding fathers of the group were John Crome and Robert Ladbrooke - both of whom were established artists and had first met as teenagers while serving apprenticeships in the city. In 1803 an official group was established which contained a mixture of professional and amateur artists. They met for 'the purpose of an Enquiry into the Rise, progress and present state of Painting, Architecture and Sculpture with a view to point out the Best Method of Study to Attain the greater Perfection in these Arts'. The first meeting was held at Little Cockey lane near Castle Meadow. Sketching parties and exhibitions soon followed.

John Crome

John Sell Cotman would return to the city in 1807. The art historian Laurence Binyon described his work as 'the most perfect examples of pure watercolour ever made in Europe'.

Crome, Ladbrooke, Hodgson and Cotman all had sons who became artists and subsequently a second generation of Norwich painters emerged - a group which also included James Stark, George Vincent and Joseph Stannard. There then occurred a third generation: Alfred Stannard, Henry Bright and John Middleton - who were still producing Norwich School-type paintings as late as the 1880s. However, it was the first three decades of the 19th century which produced most of the important works.

At this time Norwich was a radical and cultured place where both the arts and the sciences were fostered. (Sir James Edward, the first president of the Linnaean Society lived in the city for many years.) When Andrew Robertson, a friend of Constable, visited the city in 1814 he had this to say about the place:

'I arrived here a week ago and find it a place where the arts are very much cultivated.... some branches of knowledge, chemistry, botany, etc are carried to a great length. General literature seems to be pursued with an ardour which is astonishing when we consider that it does not contain a university, and it is merely a manufacturing town.'

Wealthy Norwich families - such as the Gurneys who founded Barclays Bank - acted as patrons to the Norwich artists. Crome was also employed to teach the Gurney children art.

Among the Norwich intellectuals was the writer and translator William Taylor - who gave lectures on art to the Norwich Philosophical Society. In a lecture delivered in 1814 he urged that architecture and townscapes should be considered higher subjects than rural landscapes - a comment which was almost certainly directed at John Crome. Crome was seen by many as the founding father of the Norwich School and his works were predominantly depictions of rural scenes. Perhaps his most famous painting, now hanging in the National Gallery in London, is The Poringland Oak - which shows three adults and a child bathing in a pond in rural Norfolk.

The Poringland Oak

Other famous rural depictions of his include Whitlingham Church (now derelict) and Postwick Grove.

After returning to Norwich, John Sell Cotman spent most of the rest of his life in the county. However, he did gain a post as an art teacher in 1834 at King's College in London and one of his pupils was Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Cotman was frustrated through out his life by, what he saw as, his lack of success and by having to depend on teaching art for a living. Cotman's water colours have a strength and intensity which make them visually stunning. His Norwich Market Place - which was exhibited in 1807 - is a particularly effective piece - conveying the hustle and bustle of the city on market day - with beautifully drawn houses and St. Peter Mancroft's Church in the background. Cotman also tackled a number of other famous landmarks in Norwich including: Bishop Bridge and Mousehold Heath.

Cotman House Norwich

Cotman House, No. 7 St. Martin's-at-Palace-Plain in Norwich

Other highlights from the Norwich School include James Stark's and John Thirtle's paintings of Cromer, Thirtle's boat builders near Cow Tower in Norwich and Joseph Stannard's water frolics.

John Crome is buried in St. George's Church in Colegate and there is a memorial to him on the back wall. James Stark, John Thirtle and John Berney Ladbrooke (son of Robert Ladbrooke) are all buried in the Rosary Cemetery off Rosary Road.

Memorial to John Crome

Memorial to John Crome

The Legacy

The Norfolk landscape has continued to provide inspiration to artists - some of whom - like Horace Tuck (1876-1951), Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) and Edward Seago (1910-1974) - have been directly inspired by the work of the Norwich School painters. Seago lived for many years at Ludham and left behind a stunning collection of impressionistic paintings of Norfolk.

Horace Tuck's work has only recently reached a wider audience thanks to Cyril Nunn who had the foresight of purchasing the artist's complete studio work. Tuck has been described as Norfolk's 'forgotten artist'.


More Norwich School Paintings and Locations






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