THOMAS HARTLEY CROMEK, A.N.W.S. (1809-1873)
THE INTERIOR OF THE COLOSSEUM, ROME
Signed with monogram l.r.
21.6 x 28.6 cm
Anonymous sale, Christie's, 03.07.2007, Lot 693;
Private collection, Cornwall
Thomas Hartley Cromek was born in London, the only son of the illustrator Robert Hartley Cromek. His father died very early in Thomas’ childhood and so his mother took him to live with his grandfather in Wakefield. Here he attended several schools before beginning his artistic training first with the Wakefield portraitist, James Hunter, and secondly with the landscape artist, Joseph Rhodes. Hunter encouraged Cromek’s nascent interest in drawing while Rhodes developed his appreciation for topography, though Rhodes worked primarily in oils.
Cromek’s career began in earnest on his trip to Florence and Rome with his mother in 1830. He met and befriended several artists in Rome but, more importantly, was introduced to the brothers Robert and Henry Cheney, who would become his most leading patrons. Cromek swiftly specialised in topographical and architectural views, painting in the Campagna and environs of Rome.
His vibrant colouring and particular gift for architectural detailing and decoration made him commercial very successful, popular with Grand Tourists and local patron alike. In 1834, buoyed by his success, Cromek set out for Palestine via Greece and Asia Minor. He was driven back to Greece by an outbreak of plague in the Eastern Mediterranean; however, despite this misfortune, the period was to lead to some of his very finest works. Cromek spent the remainder of his journey in Mycenae, Argos, Corfu, and Athens between 1834-1835.
Upon his return to England in 1835, Cromek converted to Roman Catholicism and married Anastasia Priestman. The couple relocated to Italy, with Cromek basing his studio in Florence. It was here that he gave lessons to a young Edward Lear and sold several of his works to the Grand Duke & Duchess of Tuscany, solidifying his reputation in the city. He returned to England only occasionally in the following years, made one further trip to Greece. On one such visit to London, in 1843, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert invited him to Buckingham Palace to view his drawings; the Queen bought two of them. On Cromek’s second trip to Greece, in 1845, he painted several important large views of the Parthenon and Athens, having visited the city previously on his first Grecian tour.
The outbreak of the Italian Civil War forced the Cromeks to return to England. He was best-known for his vivid and ornate architectural views of Italy and Greece, though he also visited Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. He exhibited at the New Society of Painters in Watercolour (N.W.S.), of which he was made an associate in 1850, and showed at the Royal Academy and Society of British Artists. Cromek struggled to replicate the success he had found in Italy and, having lost the use of his hands in the final decade of his life, died in relative obscurity.
Much of what is known of Thomas Hartley Cromek’s life and career is based on a journal he wrote, entitled Reminiscences at Home and Abroad, 1812-1855, which only came to light in the latter half of the 20th century. (The manuscript remains unpublished and is today in the possession of one of the artist’s descendants). Today he is better appreciated as one of the more singular and accomplished British watercolourists to make European views their specialty.