It seems like an eternity ago now, but from 1972 to 1975 I was at University. I studied at the University of East Anglia, which is situated on the outskirts of Norwich, in Norfolk. For those who don’t know this area, it is a county on the eastern side of England, about halfway up as you look at the map. It is mostly known for its flat landscape and alleged inbreeding, which may explain the local accent, a slow drawl matching the pace of life: Norwich has to be the most laidback city in the country! Norfolk is perhaps best known for the Broads, which are actually a lovely area of waterways ideal for boating holidays not, as some might think, over-friendly ladies! The University is situated to the west of the city on a site which was described by the then local Member of Parliament as being “a second rate golf course replaced by a third rate university.” Oh how we took great delight in voting him out at the next election! I am very proud of my former university, which has gone on to international renown in several areas of study.
My course was in English Literature with a minor in the History of Art. My main focus was on the 19th century, which was fortunate as Norwich Castle Museum is home to many outstanding artworks from that period. If asked to name an English landscape painter from that era most would offer Constable and Turner, far fewer would mention any of the Norwich School of painters. This is a shame, as they are missing some great landscape painting of that age, so for today’s post I thought I’d share a few with you.
The best known of the Norwich School are John Sell Cotman and John Crome. Having lived for three years in what is a lovely place, in beautiful landscape, it was one of the joys of my time there to visit the Museum and wallow in its depictions of local life in a bygone age. My three examples are all by Crome, the first of which is this peaceful scene of afternoon river life in Norwich, painted between 1812 and 1819:
No doubt these people were actually working – maybe looking for fish or transporting goods – but at a pace which we would now associate with lazy days on holiday. It may well be more populated now, but Norwich still enjoys its river, the River Wensum, as this picture I took two years ago shows:
Giving lie to the perception that the area is entirely flat, Crome painted a number of pictures of the view from higher ground, including this one, which is called the View from Mousehold Heath:
Crome was fortunate to be able to paint this rural view, which would be impossible now – since 1887 Mousehold Heath has been home to Norwich Prison!
My final Crome painting is of St Martin’s Gate. This was one of the 12 gates, dating back to the 14th century, which protected Norwich from unwanted intruders. The gates lasted until the early 19th century, when the local council deemed them too expensive to maintain, so this is a depiction of a piece of history which is now lost to us all:
Norwich’s slogan, which appears on signs around the area, is ‘A Fine City.’ Indeed it is, and always has been!