NORFOLK Museums Service
Object Handling

Norwich School of Artists

These holdings form the most comprehensive collection of the work of the Norwich School of Artists in existence. The collection covers three generations of some fifty artists who form the nucleus of the School. All are well represented by an impressive, representative range of works in all media.

'The stature of the signature works, especially of the first generation Norwich School artists, is of wider than regional significance; indeed there is no comparitor among European Schools of painting of that period'.

Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, Director of Art, Arts Council of England

'Greta Bridge, Yorkshire' by John Sell Cotman, 1810The two leading members of the School were John Crome (1768-1821) and John Sell Cotman (1782-1842), both of whom have international reputations in their own right. The artist Charles Daubigny (1817-1878) commented in 1870 that 'without Old Crome, Turner and Constable, the modern French School could not have existed'. (William Gaunt, Victorian Olympus, Cardinal, 1988). Crome’s identified oeuvre is particularly small and securely identified works number under one hundred oil paintings. Twenty-two of these are in the collection at Norwich. Also included are a group of his very rare watercolours and drawings and a complete sequence of etchings with examples of the different states. Similarly Cotman, a more prolific artist, is represented with the largest collection of his oil paintings in existence, thirty-six in total. Of the 800 watercolours and drawings, 100 are of ‘exhibition’ quality. A series of 130 of his numbered drawings for pupils to copy and complete sets of his 400 or so published etchings in their various editions are also included.

The Norwich School artists found subjects for their paintings primarily in Norwich and the countryside and coastline of Norfolk, but not exclusively so. In common with their contemporaries they also toured the British Isles, while Crome and Cotman were among the first to tour the continent in search of subject matter. The artists are too numerous to mention all of them, but among the more prominent of the landscape painters were Robert Ladbrooke, his son John Berney Ladbrooke, Crome’s most important pupils, James Stark and George Vincent and Crome's own sons John Berney Crome and William Henry Crome. Others were marine artists, most notably Joseph Stannard and his brother Alfred, and William and John Cantiloe Joy. The women of the School, Emily and Eloise Harriet Stannard and Emily Crome were still life artists, as was James Sillett who also painted miniatures. All these artists are each represented by between 5-35 paintings. The highly prolific Henry Bright, who was equally proficient in oil and watercolour, is well represented in both media (14 oils, 73 watercolours and drawings). An important artist, who had his roots in the Norwich School, was Frederick Sandys, the ‘Norwich Pre-Raphaelite’, who Rossetti called ‘the greatest of living draughtsmen’. As well as seven oils by him, the collection includes a series of magnificent chalk portraits in the Pre-Raphaelite manner.

Of the watercolour artists John Thirtle was, after Cotman, the most talented and is represented by almost 200 watercolours and drawings, mainly of the streets and rivers of Norwich and its surrounding countryside. Cotman’s sons Miles Edmund and John Joseph are also well represented, as is Henry Ninham whose collection of 350 watercolours of Norwich are a valuable record of the changing face of the City. The Rev E. T. Daniell produced a remarkable series of about 150 watercolours made on his travels of the Far East. Apart from a few watercolours in the British Museum, his work is virtually unrepresented in public collections outside Norwich. The youngest and most talented of the younger members of the School was John Middleton, whose freely painted watercolour landscapes appear remarkably modern and whose work is also poorly represented in collections outside Norwich.

In addition to these, numerous local and national artists who exhibited with the Norwich Society of Artists or who were connected with the Norwich School artists are also represented. These collections are supported by a wide range of related material: sketch books, personalia, contemporary catalogues, manuscripts, exhibition reviews, photographs, etc., as well as portraits of all the main artists and several of the more minor ones.

Read more