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Blacksmith's Shop near Hingham, Norfolk

John Crome, English, 1768 - 1821

Made in Norfolk, England, Europe

c. 1808

Oil on canvas

60 5/8 × 48 inches (154 × 121.9 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928

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  • PublicationBritish Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Crome’s early masterpiece The Blacksmith's Shop near Hingham shows the tumbledown shack thrown up against the side of a thatched cottage used by the blacksmith for the villages of Hingham and Hardingham, each about twelve miles southwest of Norwich. Other paintings by Crome on the blacksmith-shop theme were exhibited under the name of either village. In this painting, to the left, the smithy sharpens a tool at a grindstone; family members and perhaps assistants mill around the shop. The dense, full foliage of the trees, and the blue, silver-clouded sky indicate a scene in midsummer; the whole breathes an air of intense stillness on a warm afternoon in the deep country. In the foreground two ducks float on a pond. Crome used the motif of the shop in picturesque dilapidation set against a verdant landscape to create one whole and harmonious melding of shapes, tones, and textures.

    The scale of the picture indicates that from the first Crome conceived it as an exhibition picture, perhaps with the Royal Academy exhibition in mind, where it appeared in 1808. Two watercolors are related to it. The first, in the Norwich Castle Museum (The Blacksmith’s Shop, c.1806-7, pencil and watercolor, 21 1/4 x 17 1/2" {54.1 x 44.3 cm.} Norwich, Norwich Castle Museum {Norfolk Museums Service}), shows the blacksmith's shop from a different angle; it is presumably one of the watercolors exhibited at the Norwich Society in 1807 (no. 19 or 100 ), and may be assumed to have preceded the Philadelphia oil. The Doncaster watercolor (The Blacksmith’s Shop, c. 1806-7, watercolor, 15 1/4 x 11 1/2” {38.7 x 29.2 cm.} Doncaster, Museum and Art Gallery), which is nearly identical in composition with the Philadelphia picture, has been thought by Goldberg (1978, vol. 1, p. 255) to have been executed in preparation for the Philadelphia oil, and is perhaps also one of the watercolors "from nature" exhibited at the Norwich Society in 1807 (no. 19 or 100 ).

    Nearly all commentators on Crome agree on the importance of The Blacksmith's Shop, with the exception of Binyon (1897, pp. 20-21), who thought it "not a very characteristic or significant work." Beginning with Hawcroft (1959, p. 234), scholars have seen The Blacksmith’s Shop primarily in terms of Crome's response to Gainsborough's (1727-1788) Cottage Door (1780, oil on canvas, 58 x 47” {147.3 x 119.4 cm.} San Marino, California, Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery), which belonged (until its sale in 1807) to Crome's patron Thomas Harvey of Catton, and which Crome is known to have copied.1 The Crome is, of course, an essay in the picturesque very much in the spirit of The Cottage Door; and in 1806 Crome had exhibited at the Norwich Society (no. 221) a "Sketch, from Nature, in the Style of Gainsborough.''

    There are, however, important differences between the intentions of Gainsborough and Crome--so that the Norwich artist can be said to have been influenced only superficially by Gainsborough in comparison to his less obvious but much more profound debt to Richard Wilson (1713-1782). Gainsborough's cottage and its inhabitants are idealized visions living out a pastoral idyll, creations of a rococo sensibility. Gainsborough's lighting and composition have a theatricality and artificiality very different from Crome's deadpan description. Crome is utterly without sentimentality, and the problems that interest him are largely artistic ones: Crome's work is about the resolution of formal problems.

    In style and technique The Blacksmith's Shop should be compared to the Tate Gallery's Moonrise on the Yare (c. 1806, 28 x 43 3/4”). Both are painted on coarsely woven canvas on a monochrome ground of dark red or ocher, with liquid, runny paint handled with great broadness and freedom. The undercoat was allowed to dry, after which the next layer of color was applied. Some bitumen was used to give the picture a mellow tone. In addition to the influence of Gainsborough, Crome clearly responded in The Blacksmith’s Shop to the return of John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) to Norwich late in 1806. Comparing the watercolors of The Blacksmith’s Shop to Cotman's Old Houses at Gorleston (c. 1815-23, oil on canvas, 18 x 14” {45.5 x 35.3 cm.} Norwich Castle Museum {Norfolk Museums Service}), one perceives that Cotman's interest in the simplified patterns made by the planes and the angles of timbers is reflected in a similar treatment of architecture in The Blacksmith’s Shop, where, like Cotman, Crome's primary interest is in subtlety of texture and tone, the definition of shape through the modulation and control of color.

    Richard Dorment, from British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century (1986), pp. 78-81.

    1. Dawson Turner, Outlines in Lithography from a Small Collection of Pictures (privately published, 1840), p. 23.

    Reeve MS., no. 167, c. 6, fol. 18, British Museum Print Room, London; "John Crome and His Works," Norwich Mercury, November 1858; John Wooderspoon,John Crome and His Works. [1858]. 2nd ed. Norwich, 1876, p. 20; Laurence Binyon, John Crome and John Sell Cotman. London, 1897, pp. 20-21; William Frederick Dickes. The Norwich School of Painting. London and Norwich, 1905, p. 63; Henry Studdy Theobald, Crome's Etchings: A Catalogue and Appreciation with Some Account of His Paintings. London,1906, pp. 13-14; William Roberts, Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Formed by John H. McFadden, Esq., of Philadelphia, Pa. London, 1917, pp. 13-14, repro. opp. p. 13; H. M. Cundall, "The Norwich School." The Studio, special issue, 1920, pp. 13-14, pl. XXII; C. H. Collins Baker, Crome. London, 1921. (introduction by C. J. Holmes) 1921, p. 59 n. 2, pp. 83, 86, 98, 101, 106, 118, 122, 186, 195, 197; R. H. Mottram, John Crome of Norwich. London, 1931, p. 116; Francis W. Hawcroft, "Crome and His Patron: Thomas Harvey of Catton." The Connoisseur, vol. 144, no. 582 (December 1959), p. 234 fig. 7; Norman L. Goldberg, "Old Crome in America." The Connoisseur, vol. 146, no. 589 (November 1960), 1960, pp. 215 fig. 3; Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester. The Norwich School, Loan Exhibition of Works by Crome and Cotman, and Their Followers, February 10-March 11, 1961 (by Francis W. Hawcroft), pp. 5, 32 (notes for no. 34); Derek Clifford, Watercolours of the Norwich School. London, 1965, p. ix; Jacksonville, Florida, Cummer Gallery of Art, Nashville, Tennesse, Tennesse Fine Arts Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art. Landscapes of the Norwich School, An American Debut, 1967, (by Norman L. Goldberg) pp. 25-26, 47, 73; Derek Clifford and Timothy Clifford, John Crome. London, 1968, pp. 53-54, 131, 197, no. P37, 201, 263, 266, 268, 272, 274-6, pl. 86; Norwich, Norwich Castle Museum, London, Tate Gallery. John Crome, 1768-1821 (by Frederick Cummings, Allen Staley, and Robert Rosenblum), 1968, introduction (unpaginated), pl. 2; Allen Staley, "British Painting from Hogarth to Alma-Tadema." Apollo, n.s., vol. 100 (July 1974), p. 37; Norman L. Goldberg, John Crome the Elder. 2 vols. Oxford, 1978, vol. I, pp. 13, 21, 24-25, 33, 51-54, 52 n. 48, 70, 77 n. 24, 90, 131, 135, 141, 186-87 no. 34, 189, 254-55 (under no. 175), 297, vol. 2, fig. 34; Harold A. E. Day, The Norwich School of Painters. Eastbourne, Sussex, 1979, p. 17; Andrew Hemingway, The Norwich School of Painters, 1803-1833. Oxford, 1979, p. 15; Kathryn Moore Heleniak, William Mulready, (New Haven and London, 1980), p. 67, fig. 65.

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