Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 13.djvu/147

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William Beechey; assisted by his friends the Gurneys and others, he made excursions in the lake counties and Wales and to the south coast, and in 1814 paid a visit to Paris viâ Belgium; but, as a rule, Norwich and its neighbourhood were sufficient for his art and himself. He soon gathered around him a knot of artists, amateurs, and pupils, and helped to lay the foundation of what is known as the Norwich school, a small pleiad of artists of whom the greatest were ‘Old’ Crome and John Sell Cotman [q. v.], but it included other admirable painters, like Vincent and Stark, Crome's pupils, Stannard, Thirtle, and the Ladbrookes. The rise and fall of this school forms a unique, brilliant, but short-lived phenomenon in the history of English art. It was unique because provincial, and its nearest parallel was, perhaps, the greater school of water-colour landscape which had its beginnings much about the same time in that band of earnest students, Turner, Girtin, Hunt, Edridge, Prout, Varley, and others, who met together under the roof of Dr. Monro, in the Adelphi, London, or at Bushey. It was in February 1803 that the first meeting of the Norwich Society took place, in a dingy building in a dingy locality called the Hole in the Wall in St. Andrew's, Norwich. Its full title was ‘The Norwich Society 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 methods of study, and to attain to greater perfection in these arts.’ It has been called ‘a small joint-stock association, both of accomplishments and worldly goods.’ Each member had to afford proofs of eligibility, was elected by ballot, and had to subscribe his proportion of the value of the general stock, his right in which was forfeited by disregard of the laws and regulations. The society met once a fortnight at 7 P.M., and studied books on art, drawings, engravings, &c. for an hour and a half, after which there was a discussion on a previously arranged subject. Each member in rotation provided bread and cheese for supper and read a paper on art. The first president of the society was W. C. Leeds, and their first exhibition was held in 1805 at the large room in Sir Benjamin Wrench's court. This court, which was on the site of the present Corn Hall, occupied a quadrangle in the parish of St. Andrew, which was wholly demolished about 1828. The exhibition comprised 223 works in oil and water colour, sculpture and engraving, over twenty of which were by Crome. The exhibitions were annual till Crome's death in 1821, and continued with some interruption till 1833. In 1816 a secession, headed by Crome's old friend Ladbrooke, took place, and a rival exhibition was held for three years (1816–18) at Theatre (or Assembly Rooms) Plain. The old society seems to have been in full vigour in 1829, when they had rooms in New Exchange Street. They held a dinner that year, in imitation of the Royal Academy; made grave speeches in which reference was made to the assistance to the funds given by the corporation of Norwich. From the account of the proceedings it would appear that they looked forward to the establishment of a regular academy at Norwich, and had no thought of that extinction so soon to follow.

In 1806 Crome first exhibited at the Royal Academy, and he continued to send pictures there occasionally till 1818. Thirteen works at the Royal Academy, all of which were landscapes with one exception, ‘A Blacksmith's Shop,’ and five at the British Institution constituted his entire contribution to the picture exhibitions in London, but his ‘Poringland’ was exhibited at the British Institution in 1824, three years after his death. To the Norwich exhibitions he contributed annually from 1805 to 1820, sending never less than ten and once as many as thirty-one pictures, and exhibiting 288 in all. Four of his pictures were included in the exhibition of 1821, which opened after his death. In 1808 he became president of the Norwich Society, R. Ladbrooke being then vice-president, but after this, except the secession of Ladbrooke and others from the society in 1816, there is no other important event to chronicle in his life, which appears to have been attended by a gradual increase of prosperity, though his income is not supposed to have risen at any time beyond about 800l. a year. Although his reputation was so high in his locality, it did not extend far, and though he painted and sold a great number of pictures, he seldom or never obtained more than 50l. even for a highly finished work. His income, however, sufficed to bring up his family in a comfortable if not luxurious fashion. From 1801 to his death he lived in a good-sized house in Gildengate Street, St. George's, Colegate. He kept two horses, which were indeed necessary for his journeys to his pupils, some of whom lived far from Norwich. He would drive from Norwich to Yarmouth in one day. He collected a large number of pictures and a valuable library of books. He was a favourite of all, and welcome not only in small, but great houses; his manners were winning, his conversation interesting and lively with jest and reminiscence. Good-tempered and jovial, he loved