Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Crofts, Ernest

CROFTS, ERNEST (1847–1911), historical painter, born at Leeds, Yorkshire, on 15 Sept. 1847, was second son of John Crofts, J.P., a manufacturer. His mother, Ellen Wordsworth, was a descendant of the poet Wordsworth.

Ernest received his general education at Rugby and Berlin, and subsequently studied art at Düsseldorf under Horace Vernet's pupil, Professor Hünten, and in London under Alfred Borron Clay [q. v.]. In 1874 he first exhibited at the Royal Academy, the subject of his picture being ‘A Retreat: Episode in the Franco-German War.’ From that time to the year before his death he was rarely absent from the annual exhibitions at Burlington House. He was elected A.R.A. in 1878, R.A. in 1896, and keeper and trustee of the Royal Academy, in succession to P. H. Calderon [q. v. Suppl. I], in 1898.

Crofts devoted himself almost exclusively to the military historical subject, and was particularly interested in the Napoleonic war and in the struggles between Cavalier and Roundhead. His draughtsmanship was as impeccable as his accuracy in the minutest details of costumes, accoutrements, and accessories. He had all the qualifications to make him a great pictorial illustrator. He had the gift to represent the stirring episodes of past history in dramatic intensity, but was rather deficient, especially towards the end of his career, in the sensuous appreciation of colour.

His most ambitious work as regards scale is the panel in the ambulatory of the Royal Exchange, ‘Queen Elizabeth opening the first Royal Exchange.’ The Diploma Gallery at Burlington House owns his ‘To the Rescue.’ ‘The Funeral of Charles I’ is at the Bristol Art Gallery, and ‘On the Evening of the Battle of Waterloo’ (R.A. 1879) at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Among his other notable pictures are ‘Marlborough after Ramillies’ (1880), ‘Charles I on the Way to Execution’ (1883), ‘Wallenstein’ (1884), ‘Gunpowder Plot: the Conspirators' last Stand at Holbeach House’ (1892), ‘Napoleon and the Old Guard at Waterloo’ (R.A. 1895), ‘Oliver Cromwell at the Storming of Basing House’ (1900), ‘The Capture of a French Battery at Waterloo,’ ‘King Edward VII distributing South African War Medals,’ ‘The Funeral of Queen Victoria’ (1903), ‘Prince Rupert and his Staff at Marston Moor’ (1904). Crofts was elected F.S.A. on 1 March 1900.

He died at Burlington House on 19 March 1911, and was buried at Kensal Green. He married in 1872 Elizabeth Wüsthofen, of Düsseldorf, and had one daughter. His portrait is included in Sir Hubert von Herkomer's large group of the Royal Academy Council, at the National (Tate) Gallery of British Art. The works and sketches remaining in his possession were sold at Christie's after his death on 19 Dec. 1911.

[Windsor Mag., March 1909; Graves, Royal Acad. Exhibitors; private information.]

P. G. K.