Thomas Hartley Cromek, ANWS (1809-1873) Thomas Hartley Cromek is best known for his grand and colourful images of the architecture and landscape of Italy and Greece; these were founded on long experiences of the Mediterranean during the 1830s and 40s.
Thomas Hartley Cromek was born at 64 Newman Street, London, in late July 1809, the only son of the engraver and illustrator, Robert Hartley Cromek. Following the death of his father in 1812, his mother took him to Wakefield to live with his grandfather, and he attended, in turn, the local school run by Enoch Harrison, the Moravian school at Fulneck, Leeds, and Wakefield Grammar School. He began his studies in art with the Wakefield portrait painter, James Hunter, and then worked in Leeds under the landscape painter, Joseph Rhodes. In 1827, he received a commission from the Leeds surgeon, Thomas Teale, to make some detailed anatomical drawings.
In June 1830, Cromek set out for Florence and Rome with his mother for the sake of her health. On arriving in Rome, he met many other British artists and the brothers, Edward and Henry Cheney, who would number among his leading patrons.
Studying the antiquities of the city and making sketching trips to the surrounding Campagna, he established himself as a painter of topographical landscape. In 1834, he set out on a journey to Palestine, but was driven back to Greece by an outbreak of plague in the Eastern Mediterranean. The time that he spent in Mycenae, Argos and Corfu gave rise to some of his finest drawings.
Returning to England in 1835, Cromek converted to Roman Catholicism in the following January, and married Anastasia Priestman in the July. They would have three daughters. In September 1836, he made another trip to Italy, initially basing himself in Florence. Still in the city in the following year, he gave some lessons to the young Edward Lear and sold some drawings to the Grand Duke and Duchess of Tuscany, which helped consolidate his reputation. While remaining in Italy through most of the 1840s, he occasionally visited England and, in 1845, made a second trip to Greece. On the outbreak of the Italian Civil War in 1849, he returned the country for the last time. Having studied Hebrew with a Jewish scholar in Rome, he published A Manual of Hebrew Verbs in 1851.
Best known for his grand and colourful architectural views of Greece and Italy, Cromek also painted in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. He was elected an Associate of the New Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1850, and also exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Society of British Artists. Sadly, he had to stop painting in 1861, when he lost the use of his hands, and a decade later was reported as being helpless and impoverished. He died in Stratfield Street, Wakefield, on 10 April 1873, leaving behind him an unpublished memoir of his father, ‘Memorials of the life of R H Cromek’.
Further reading: Ann Sumner and Suzanne Zack, Thomas Hartley Cromek: a classical vision, Harewood: Harewood House, 1999; Michael Warrington, ‘Cromek, Thomas Hartley (1809-1873)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 14, pages 294-295