Background of the Hamilton Kerr Institute
John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) and John Crome (1768-1821): availability and economy or experiment and innovation?
The work of Crome and Cotman shows a fascinating use of, and sensitivity to, their materials. They have been found to employ an unusual range of painting supports, such as paper pasted onto coarse canvas, ticking, reused boards and panels from furniture (and coach doors). Many of these are of a low–quality or recycled, but the resultant pronounced textures are often celebrated, not hidden. This has lead to questioning of the relative importance of economy and availability versus experiment and innovation in their material choices. Compositional changes by Cotman revealed by x–ray has led to investigation into his methods of developing compositions. Technical relationships between his watercolours and oils are becoming apparent.
Crome painted mainly in oils, after learning the craft as a coach–, house– and sign–painter. Cotman has become renowned for his watercolours, but he also produced a relatively understudied body of work in oils. The instability of certain techniques has led to significant disfiguration through drying problems and subsequent intrusive restoration of a number of oils by both. Analysis of their media is being carried out to investigate its contribution to these visual disturbances, prompted by Cotman’s exclamation of his ‘mania of maguilp’. Both artists were heavily imitated, which has led to their being undervalued through mis-attributed works. This research is answering questions of attribution and dating.
Both artists visited London regularly by road and sea (Cotman sailed out by the Yare, and in by the Thames to the city). The techniques of both deserve comparison with those that have been established for Turner and Constable. The influence of the methods of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings and, for Cotman, the French landscapists Dughet and Bourdon may also prove interesting. This study is questioning the late–nineteenth–century assessment of Crome and Cotman as ‘glories of the Norwich School’ and is aiming to build on this to establish them as ‘glories’ in a national context.
The two year project began in March 2011, based at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, in collaboration with Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery (NCMAG). It comprises 60% research and 40% practical conservation. The former is funded by a curatorial research grant from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, entitled Crome and Cotman are the glories of the Norwich School: A comparative analysis of methodology and meaning in relation to their use of materials, focusing on their works in oil, and employing satndard methods of observational and technical analysis. The Norwich School paintings are undergoing a re–hang scheduled to open on April 6th 2012. A temporary exhibition Cotman and Crome: Materials and Methods is planned for late 2012. The NCMAG has an unrivalled collection of works in oil by both artists, numbering forty–three currently attributed to Crome and forty to Cotman. Further paintings are being examined at the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) as part of this research. It is also drawing on past analysis carried out at Tate Britain. With thanks to Cathy Proudlove (NCMAG), Jessica David (YCBA), Joyce Townsend and Rica Jones (Tate).