Letter from John Crome to his pupil James Stark (1816)

Letter to James Stark  (1816) 
by John Crome

The is one of only two letters by John Crome (22 December 1768 – 22 April 1821) to have survived. He was an English landscape artist of the Romantic era, and one of the principal artists and founding members of the Norwich School of painters. He lived in Norwich for all his life and most of his works are Norfolk landscapes. James Stark (19 November 1794 – 24 March 1859) also became a leading member of the Norwich School, and had a successful London career. (Taken from the Wikipedia articles about both artists)

Norwich, January, 1816.

Friend James,

“I received your kind letter and feel much pleased at your approval of my picture. I fear you will see too many errors for a painter of my long practice and at my time of life; however, there are parts in it you like, I have no doubt, so I am happy. You are likely to visit us (but mum is the order of the day about that concern), I wish it might be so; we shall be happy to see you in Norwich.

“In your letter you wish me to give you my opinion of your picture. I should have liked it better if you had made it more of a whole, that is, the trees stronger, the sky running from them in shadow up to the opposite corner; that might have produced what I think it wanted, and have made it a much less too picture effect. I think I hear you say, this fellow is very vain, and that nothing is right that does not suit his eye. But be assured what I have said I thought on the first sight, it strengthened me in that opinion every time I looked at it. (Honesty, my boy!) So much for what it wanted; but how pleased I was to see so much improvement in the figures, so unlike our Norwich School; I may say they were good. Your boat was too small for them (you see I am at it again), but then the water pleased me, and I think it would not want much alteration in the sky. I cannot let your sky go off without some observation. I think the character of your clouds too affected, that is, too much of some of our modern painters, who mistake some of our great masters because they sometimes put in some of those round characters of clouds, they must do the same; but if you look at any of their skies, they either assist in the composition or make some figure in the picture, nay, sometimes play the first fiddle. I have seen this in Wouverman’s and many others I could mention.

“Breath must be attended to, if you paint but a muscle give it breath. Your doing the same by the sky, making parts broad and of a good shape, that they may come in with your composition, forming one grand plan of light and shade, this must always please a good eye and keep the attention of the spectator and give delight to every one. Trifles in Nature must be overlooked that we may have our feelings raised by seeing the whole picture at a glance, not knowing how or why we are so charmed. I have written you a long rigmarole story about giving dignity to whatever you paint—I fear so long that I should be scarcely able to understand what I mean myself; you will I hope, take the word for the deed, and at the same time forgive all faults in diction, grammar, spelling, &c., &c., &c.

“We have heard from John; I believe he is not petrified from having seen the French School. He says in his letter something about Tea-Tray painters. I believe most of those who visit them whistle the same note. So much for the French Artists.

“I hope they will arrive safe. Our happiness would be made complete if your tongue could be heard amongst us. ‘Parley vous,’ my boy, will be echoed from garret to cellar in my house. I think I hear Vincent say to John: ‘Why, John, what d——d French rascal was that passed us just now? Why look at his whiskers; why he must be a Don Cossack.’ They had a charming voyage over, Vincent belshing as loud as the steam packet, much to the discomfiture of some of the other passengers. John did not say how Steel was in the passage, but I believe they were all bad alike.

“Sunday night.—I put this last in my smooth paper epistle— that the boys are by my fireside going to take a glass of wine, quite well and happy. I wish you were with us. I have nothing more to say, only wishing you health and comfort.

“Believe me, dear James,

“Yours &c., &c.,

John Crome.

“John will write in a day or two. We have just heard of the death of Mrs. Sharp.

“James Stark, Esq.,
“85, Newman Street, London.”

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.