Norwich School
Origins, History, Artists of English Landscape Painting Movement.

Pin it

• Greta Bridge (1805)
British Museum, London.
By John Sell Cotman.

For an idea of the pigments
used by Norwich School painters,
see: Colour Palette 19th Century.

Norwich School of of Landscape Painting
(Flourished 1803-33)

The term Norwich School refers to several generations of Romantic artists, mostly landscape painters, associated with the Norwich Society of Artists which was established in 1803. Initially conceived as a landscape painting club and discussion group, it became the first provincial arts body in Britain to hold regular exhibitions. These took place annually during the period 1805-25, and then later during the period 1828-33, after the Society's reconstitution as the Norfolk and Suffolk Insitution for the Promotion of the Fine Arts.

The Norwich Society of Artists' first President and founding member was the local landscape oil painter John Crome (1768-1821), who was succeeded by the watercolourist John Sell Cotman (1782-1842). Inspired by the flat East Anglian landscape with its big skies, Norfolk Broads and rivers, and by 17th century Dutch Realist painters such as Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709) and Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-82), Norwich School artists included amateurs as well as professionals, many of whom practised the avant-garde method of plein air painting. The Norwich School remains an important historical element in the larger tradition of English landscape painting.

For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.

Romantic scenic painting in
America was exemplified by
the Hudson River School of
landscape painting, and

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.

For details of the best modern
painters, since 1800, see:
Famous Painters (1830-2010)

For a guide to the different,
categories/meanings of visual
arts, see: Definition of Art.

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.


The Norwich Society of Artists was started in 1803 by John Crome and his friend Robert Ladbrooke (1770-1842), as a club where local painters could meet to exchange ideas. The Society thrived and, in 1805, mounted its first public exhibition of members' works - mainly landscapes and marine paintings of the locality. This proved such a success that it was repeated almost every year until 1825. After a 3-year break caused by the demolition of the Society's premises, the society reopened in a new venue 3 years later, whereupon exhibitions continued until 1833.

The driving force behind the Norwich School was undoubtedly Crome who attracted many members until his death in 1821. The Presidency then went to Cotman who managed affairs until 1834 when he left Norwich to take up an arts Professorship at King's College School, London. The Society limped on during the 1830s before effectively disbanding.


The remaining landscape painters of the Norwich school are followers rather than original artists. Robert Ladbrooke, the friend and associate of 'Old Crome', was in no way his equal, nor was his son, John Bernay Crome (1794-1842). Miles Edmund Cotman (1811-58), also followed his father with no more success. A number of other members of the Cotman family were also artists, among whom JJ Cotman (c.1812-78) was the most original. The best of the remaining members were James Stark (1794-1859), George Vincent (1796-1831), John Thirtle (1777-1839), H Ninham (1793-1874), Joseph Stannard (1797-1830), Alfred Stannard (1806-89), and Thomas Lound (1802-61).

Why was Norwich the location for Britain's only regional painting school? Aside from the individual work of 'Old Crome' there's no clear answer to this, although the eastern counties have always been a fertile source of exceptional artistic talent ever since the East Anglian illuminators of the first half of the 14th century. Maybe the proximity of Flanders and Holland may explain this: certainly Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), John Constable (1776-1837), and John Crome all drew inspiration from the naturalism of the Low Countries.


The Norwich School's unique achievement was the production of a large body of landscape oils and watercolours, painted largely in the open air by a comparatively small group of self-taught working-class artists. This modest and relatively obscure school deserves greater fame, not least because - like its French cousin the Barbizon School - its subjects and style of working anticipate the coming of Impressionist landscape painting. Note also that an important reason for the Norwich School's lack of fame, compared to that of (say) Constable and Turner, is primarily due to lack of exposure. Most of their paintings were collected by the local business tycoon J.J.Colman (Colman's Mustard), and thereafter displayed at Norwich Castle Museum. This lack of exposure has proved a major obstacle to the School's success. Had its works been showcased in the UK's best art museums, it might have been a different story.

Selected Major Works

Works by landscape painters of the Norwich School include the following:

John Crome
Moonrise on the Marshes of the Yare (1808) Tate Collection, London
The Blasted Oak (1808) Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
The Poringland Oak (Date Unclear) Tate Collection, London
View of Mousehold Heath near Norwich (1812) Victoria & Albert Museum
Back of New Mills Evening (1812-1819) Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Yarmouth Harbour - Evening (1817) Tate Collection, London

John Sell Cotman
Chirk Aqueduct (1804) watercolour, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Greta Bridge (1805) British Museum, London
Seashore With Boats (1806) Tate Collection, London
Norwich Market-Place (1809) Tate Collection, London
The Marl Pit (1809-10) Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery

Note: For other provincial schools of landscape painting in England, see the late 19th century Newlyn School (flourished 1884-1914) and the mid-20th century St Ives School (flourished 1939-1960s).

• For the evolution of painting and sculpture in Ireland, see: History of Irish Art.
• For information about visual arts, see: Homepage.

Art Movements
© All rights reserved.