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Thomas Hartley Cromek
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Wakefield, Yorkshire
An English landscape painter, Thomas Hartley Cromek is known for his watercolors and drawings. He was the son of Robert Hartley Cromek (1770-1812), an engraver and illustrator. His mother Elizabeth Hartley Cromek (1779-1848) took him to Wakefield, in Yorkshire near Leeds, to live with her father after her husband’s death. He was educated in schools in Leeds and Wakefield. A Wakefield portrait painter, James Hunter, encouraged Cromek’s interest in drawing; he later received lessons from the landscape painter Joseph Rhodes (1782-1854) in Leeds. Cromek’s earliest commissioned work was probably anatomical drawings made for a Leeds surgeon. In 1830 Cromek and his mother left England for Italy; he told the landscape artist John Constable (1776-1837) that the trip was for his mother’s health. They traveled to Florence by way of Holland and Germany, bearing letters of introduction from Catherine Osborne, the Duchess of Leeds (d. 1837). Florence proved to be too cold for Mrs. Cromek and they relocated to Rome, where Cromek lived until 1849, with travel around Italy, two trips to Greece and occasional trips back to England. He came to be friends with a number of English artists working in Rome and acquired important patrons, including the brothers Edward (1803-1884) and Robert Henry Cheney (ca. 1800-1866). In 1831 the archeologist Sir William Gell (1777-1836) took him to visit the excavations at Pompeii. Cromek had wanted to go to Palestine and Egypt via Athens in 1834, but on reaching Syria, was told to return to Greece due to the plague then afflicting the Levant. Cromek visited Argos, Corfu and Mycenae before returning to Italy, where he went on a sketching trip from Venice with Edward Cheney. Cromek returned to England in 1835, joined the Catholic Church and the following year married Anastasia Priestman. They journeyed to Florence, living there for a few years. By this time his career was flourishing; in addition to commissions and sales he also gave lessons to a number of aristocratic pupils who visited Italy, as well as the artist Edward Lear (1812-1888). In 1837 he was summoned to the Pitti Palace, where the Leopold II, Grand Duke Tuscany (1797-1870) and the Grand Duchess Maria Antonia (1814-1898) bought seven of his landscape drawings of Greece. His second Greek trip, in 1845, included two months in Athens. Back in Rome, the sale of his Athenian drawings paid for his trip. While Cromek was in London in 1843, Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert (1819-1861) invited him to Buckingham Palace to view his drawings; the Queen bought two of them. In 1848 the civil war in Italy forced Cromek and other English residents out of Rome. He returned to England, where he exhibited drawings at the Royal Academy in 1850, and joined the Society of Painters in Water Colours. Although he was supported by friends and patrons, his artistic career went into a decline. His health also failed, to the extent that he could not paint after 1861. He died in Wakefield in 1873. (TNB 7/2015). Selected bibliography: Thomas Hartley Cromek, 1809-1873: Exhibition of Watercolours and Drawings of Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean. Exhibition catalog. London: P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., 1972. Warrington, Michael. “Cromek, Thomas Hartley (1809–1873),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, May 2005.