Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Crowe, Joseph Archer

CROWE, Sir JOSEPH ARCHER (1825–1896), journalist, commercial attaché, and art historian, second son of Eyre Evans Crowe [q. v.] and Margaret Archer, his wife, was born at 141 Sloane Street, London, on 20 Oct. 1825. Shortly after his birth his father removed with his family to France, where Crowe's childhood was spent, principally in Paris. He returned with his father to England in 1843, and followed his father's vocation as a correspondent for the press for the 'Morning Chronicle' and the 'Daily News.' During the Crimean war Crowe acted as correspondent for the 'Illustrated London News.' Crowe was from his childhood a student of art, and on his return from the Crimea he received an offer to direct an art school in India, whither he repaired. The art school, however, did not prove available, and Crowe's energies were again devoted to war correspondence, and he assisted the 'Times' in this capacity throughout the Indian Mutiny. His career in India was cut short by ill-health, and he was forced to return to England. In 1859 he again acted as correspondent for the 'Times' during the war between Austria and Italy, and was present at the battle of Solferino. Gaining the confidence of Lord John Russell, Crowe was appointed in 1860 consul-general for Saxony, and in this capacity he represented French interests at Leipzig during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. In 1872 he was appointed consul-general for Westphalia and the Rhenish Provinces, and in 1880 commercial attaché to the embassies at Berlin and Vienna. In 1882 he was promoted to be commercial attache for the whole of Europe, to reside at Paris. Crowe's valuable knowledge and experience in commercial matters led him to be appointed to serve on several commissions or conferences for the solution of important international questions. For these services he was created a C.B. on 14 March 1885, and K.C.M.G on 21 May 1890.

Crowe died on 6 Sept. 1896, at Gamburg-on-the-Tauber, Baden, a few months after he had retired from his post as commercial attaché in Paris. He married early, in 1861, at Gotha, Fraulein Asta von Barby, daughter of Gustav von Barby and Eveline von Ribbentrop, and stepdaughter of Otto von Holtzendorff, Oberstaatsanwalt at Gotha, and by her was the father of three sons and four daughters.

Crowe is best known for his histories of painting. Ever an assiduous student of the works of the great painters, he had in 1846, at the suggestion of his father, begun to collect materials for a history of the early Flemish painters. In 1847, while on a journey to Berlin and Vienna, Crowe made a chance acquaintance with a young Italian art student, Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. This acquaintance was renewed later, and cemented into friendship in London, where Crowe found Cavalcaselle a penniless and homeless political refugee. Cavalcaselle, who owed everything to Crowe on his first introduction to London, shared his views and enthusiasm for art history, and the two friends determined to collaborate in the work on early Flemish painters, which Crowe had in hand. For a time they resided together in the same house. They visited collections and searched manuscripts together, and no detail was decided until it had been fully debated between them. Finally the whole narrative was written by Crowe, since Cavalcaselle did not speak or write English. In this way the following series of art histories were composed, which made the names of Crowe and Cavalcaselle jointly famous throughout the literary and artistic world.

  1. 'The Early Flemish Painters: Notices of their Lives and Works,' published on the last day of 1856; this work, of which a third edition appeared in 1879, was translated into French by O. Delepierre in 1862.
  2. 'A New History of Painting in Italy, from the Second to the Sixteenth Century,' published in three volumes, 1864-8.
  3. 'A History of Painting in North Italy, Venice, Padua, Vicenza, &c., from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century,' published in two volumes with illustrations in 1871.
  4. 'Titian: his Life and Times,' two volumes published in 1877, and a second edition in 1881.
  5. 'Raphael: his Life and Works,' published in two volumes in 1883-5.

These works were all translated into German. Crowe also edited J. Burckhardt's 'Cicerone, or Art Guide to Painting in Italy' (1873-9), and Kugler's ' Handbook of Painting : the German, Flemish, and Dutch Schools' (1874). In 1865 he published 'Reminiscences of Thirty-five Years of my Life.'

The works of Crowe and Cavalcaselle caused a complete revolution in the general style of criticism with which the paintings of the old masters had been wont to be received. Their method of examination not only called attention to the immense wealth of paintings, almost unknown, which existed in North and Central Italy, but recalled into existence numberless painters whose works had been overshadowed or submerged by those of their better known and more successful contemporaries. Since the publication of their works art history and the criticism of the 'old masters' have been expanded and developed into many directions. It is not likely that such pioneers in criticism as Crowe and Cavalcaselle should invariably be found to be infallible, but the greater part of their work has maintained its authority. That their works should be considered at all out of date some thirty years or more after publication is a tribute to the great impetus which these works gave to the study of the subject with which they were concerned. A new edition of the 'History of Painting in Italy' had been projected by Crowe, but only one volume had been completed at the time of his death; the new edition has, however, been continued under the editorship of Mr. S. A. Strong.

[Crowe's Works cited in the text; private information and personal knowledge.]

L. C.