Eyre Crowe’s life

Childhood

St Luke's church, Chelsea, 2002

St Luke's church, Chelsea, 2002

Eyre Crowe’s father, Eyre Evans Crowe (born 1799), was orphaned at an early age and sent to live with spinster aunts in Ireland. His precocious intelligence secured him an education at Trinity College, Dublin. In his late teens he moved to London, earning money as a contributor of articles and poems to magazines. In October 1823 he married Margaret Archer, only daughter of Captain Joseph Archer of Kiltimon House in the parish of Killiskey, county Wicklow. The couple set up home in London, and their first child, Eyre Crowe, was born on 3 October 1824, at 141 Sloane Street. He was baptized at St Luke’s parish church in nearby Chelsea on 10 November. Five other children were born to Eyre Evans and Margaret Crowe: Joseph Archer (1825), Eugenie Maria (1827), Edward (1829), Amy (1831) and George (1841).

Eyre Evans Crowe moved his family to France, where living was cheaper, in 1826. Initially they lived near Boulogne, but took an apartment in Paris in late 1827 or early 1828. Soon after 1830, Eyre Evans Crowe secured regular employment as Paris correspondent for the Morning Chronicle newspaper in London. His newspaper work brought him into contact with notable people, and the Crowe home became the centre of a liberal and artistic circle of both French people and expatriates. Eyre Evans Crowe met the young William Makepeace Thackeray, whose mother Mrs Carmichael-Smyth and grandmother Mrs Butler were part of the expatriate set, in around 1834. Young Eyre and Joe enjoyed Thackeray’s visits, as he entertained them with sketches, stories and songs. The Crowe children were educated at home by their father and by a series of private tutors. In the early 1830s, Eyre and Joe were sent to learn drawing from the painter M. Brasseur. Later in the decade, they received tuition from their parents’ friend William Darley, an Irish artist, and they also received advice from the Scottish artist John Brine, another Paris friend.

Art training

Eyre Crowe’s artistic talent was encouraged by his father, who enrolled him as a student with Paul Delaroche, then the most highly acclaimed contemporary painter in France, and head of one of the most prestigious teaching studios. Crowe entered the atelier in May 1839, aged 14. Later he also took classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Delaroche closed his atelier abruptly in the autumn of 1843 and went to Rome. He was accompanied by his pupils Jean Eugène Damery, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and Eyre Crowe. The friendship between Crowe and Gérôme, which began in Rome, would last for the rest of their lives.

Also in Rome with Crowe were his mother, sisters and youngest brother George. They remained there during the winter of 1843-1844. Eyre Evans Crowe had accepted a position as leader-writer for the Morning Chronicle, and moved to London with Joe and Edward. In the spring of 1844 the family were reunited in their new home, 5 Devonshire Terrace, Hampstead. This house was on Haverstock Hill in the modern-day Belsize Park area of London.

Crowe attempted to forge a career as an artist in London, but met with little initial success. Despite the five years of training he had already received, he applied to become a pupil at the Royal Academy Schools of Art. This may have been principally in order to become known to the members of the London art world. He was accepted as a probationer on 11 July 1845 on the recommendation of his father, and became a full student on 19 December 1845. Also at the Royal Academy Schools at the time were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Frederic George Stephens, who went on to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. Crowe’s work has never been linked with Pre-Raphaelite aims, but he was friendly with Hunt and Millais to the end of their lives, and was a particular friend of Stephens.

Struggling artist

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray

Thackeray, also now living in London, helped Crowe out financially at this time. In March 1845 he employed Crowe to copy his illustrations to Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo onto wood. Work on the volume continued through the autumn and into December 1845.

At the beginning of May 1846, Crowe gained his first success in the British art world when his painting Master Prynne searching Archbishop Laud’s pockets in the Tower was exhibited in the Royal Academy summer exhibition. The following year, Crowe participated unsuccessfully in the competition for decoration of the new Houses of Parliament. Further paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848 and 1849, but he still continued to accept small pieces of work from Thackeray in order to earn some money. In November 1849, Thackeray employed Crowe to work with him in producing the accompanying text for his friend Louis Marvy’s engravings of Sketches after English Landscape Painters.

By 1851, Crowe’s painting work had dried up. No paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in either 1850 or 1851, and he turned to writing instead in order to try to make some money to live on. Eyre Evans Crowe had moved to the Daily News in 1846, becoming its editor in 1849, and employed his son as the newspaper’s art critic. Additionally, in April 1851, Crowe was employed by Thackeray on a more formal basis than before, as his secretary and amanuensis in connection with the novel The History of Henry Esmond. At the end of 1851 the Crowe family was hit by crisis, when Eyre Evans Crowe was forced to resign from the Daily News. The following year, he moved with his wife and two youngest children back to France. Crowe, meanwhile, continued to work with Thackeray on Esmond until May, and was then persuaded to accompany him on a lecture tour to America.

With Thackeray in America

Cover of 'With Thackeray in America' (1893)

Cover of 'With Thackeray in America' (1893)

Crowe’s trip to America lasted from the end of October 1852 to the beginning of May 1853, and took him to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, Charleston and Savannah. He wrote up his reminiscences of the trip in his book With Thackeray in America, published in 1893.

On his return to Europe, Crowe made his way straight to Paris, where his mother was gravely ill. Margaret Crowe died there in October 1853. Just over a year later, Eyre Evans Crowe married Jane Frances Milne at St John’s parish church in Waterloo, London. She had been his mistress in Paris, probably since the early 1830s, and bore him at least five children. The remarriage caused a rift between Eyre Evans Crowe and his daughter Amy, who gratefully accepted Thackeray’s offer to become a governess and companion to his two daughters, and moved to London in September 1854. Eyre Evans Crowe died in London in February 1868 and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery.

Artistic success

Crowe’s zeal for art was re-invigorated by his trip to America, and he began work on a series of paintings depicting slavery. He exhibited three works in 1854 – two slave scenes at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Suffolk Street Gallery, and a more traditional historical genre scene at the Royal Academy. He appears to have lived in Paris until around the end of 1855. By January 1856 he had moved back to London, and over the next year or two Crowe’s fortunes in the art world began to rise. A picture intended for the Royal Academy that year, Boswell’s Introduction to the Literary Club, was bought by the art dealer Gambart. When Crowe’s painting A Scene at the Mitre was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857 it inaugurated a remarkable 52-year unbroken period during which at least one of his pictures graced the walls of the Academy in each year.

Members of the St John's Wood Clique

Members of the St John's Wood Clique

In the late 1850s Crowe began to get to know many other young artists, either through his old friends or in the context of official art clubs and societies. He was a member of the Hogarth Club (in existence 1858-1861) and the United Arts Club (from 1863), and attended meetings of the Etching Society in the early 1860s. He was appointed as an ‘honorary member’ of the St John’s Wood

Eyre Crowe, photographed by David Wilkie Wynfield in 1864 (by permission of the Royal Academy of Arts, London)

Eyre Crowe, photographed by David Wilkie Wynfield in 1864 (by permission of the Royal Academy of Arts, London)

Clique of artists, which formed in around 1863, and was photographed by one of its members, David Wilkie Wynfield, in 1864. He also knew journalists, politicians and lawyers through the Reform Club, which he joined in 1861 and which was to become a place of great comfort and companionship for him in his old age.

It was in 1863 that Crowe put his name forward for the first time for election as an Associate of the Royal Academy. He was unsuccessful in a number of elections in the 1870s, but was finally elected as an ARA on 12 April 1876.

The pattern of Eyre Crowe’s life

It had always proved impossible to live by art alone, however, and in 1859 Crowe took on a part-time job as itinerant Inspector of government art schools, based at the Department of Science and Art’s headquarters at the South Kensington Museum. He continued in this role until 1900. Later, from 1881 until 1907, Crowe also acted as an examiner of students’ artworks. Crowe’s profile within South Kensington led to him being one of a group of artists chosen to decorate the new buildings erected in the 1860s (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), and in 1867 he was appointed as one of a team of around sixteen Art Referees to advise the South Kensington Museum on art acquisitions.

The pattern of Crowe’s life was established by the early 1860s and did not vary much thereafter. It was based around the annual exhibition at the Royal Academy, which opened at the beginning of May each year. Paintings had to be submitted at a date early in April. The summer months were a time of leisure for Crowe until 1881, when he began spending the period between the end of April and the end of July (a period which varied each year and gradually was reduced to about four to six weeks) at the South Kensington Museum doing examining work. He normally went away in the late

The Reform Club, London, 2002

The Reform Club, London, 2002

summer to sketch and paint, often to northern France. In the autumn and the early spring there were often inspecting trips to undertake for the Department of Science and Art, which took Crowe around the provinces and occasionally as far away as Scotland or Ireland. Between the autumn and the beginning of April he worked hard at the exhibits for the Royal Academy exhibition, rarely leaving London except on business. He usually breakfasted and dined at the Reform Club on Pall Mall.

Eyre Crowe’s family

Crowe never married. His immediate family members were without exception interesting and accomplished, and he was close to all of them. For genealogical details, see the Crowe family page on this site. Crowe’s nearest brother, Joseph, began his working life as a journalist, switched to diplomacy in 1860, and ended his career as the Commercial Attaché for Europe. He spent most of his adult life living in Germany and France, and was knighted in 1890. In addition, he was a talented and influential art historian. Joseph’s son Sir Eyre Alexander Barby Wichart Crowe was a civil servant. He was knighted in 1911, and in 1920 was appointed permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (effective head of the Foreign Office). Crowe’s next brother Edward was a civil engineer, who worked during the late 1850s and early 1860s on the Warsaw waterworks before moving to Middlesbrough where he was involved with the iron industry until his death in 1873. One of his grandchildren was Dame Sylvia Crowe (1901-1997), the eminent landscape architect.

The youngest brother of the family, George, trained as a medical doctor in London and Edinburgh. In 1866 he married the American actress Kate Bateman, a member of the theatrical dynasty of the Batemans and the Comptons, who was at the time at the peak of her fame and success. George became her manager until she retired and his health deteriorated in the 1880s. He died in 1889, and Kate returned to the stage. Their daughter Sidney was also an actress, as was her daughter Leah Bateman Hunter. Sidney’s estranged actor husband, Harrison Hunter, moved to the US in the late 1890s and had a successful career on Broadway.

Crowe’s youngest sister, Amy, married Thackeray’s cousin, Edward Talbot Thackeray, in 1863. She went with him to India and gave birth to two daughters before dying in 1865. The daughters, Margie and Annie Thackeray, were brought up in London by Thackeray’s daughters Anny and Minny.

Eugenie Maria Crowe married a Welsh squire, Robert William Wynne of Bronywendon, Llanddulas, in 1850. After she was widowed in 1869 she lived in a variety of places in Britain and abroad, dying in Nice in 1899. Crowe appointed her sons Robert and Richard Wynne as the executors of his will.

Crowe’s last years

Eyre Crowe's grave, Kensal Green Cemetery, 2002

Eyre Crowe's grave, Kensal Green Cemetery, 2002

Crowe’s last painting exhibited at the Royal Academy was Mendelssohn in 1908. His health deteriorated through 1909, and on 1 April 1910 he became a Retired member of the Royal Academy, receiving a pension of £200 p.a. He died from shock and heart failure following a hernia operation at his home, 88 Hallam Street, on 12 December 1910. He was buried in his father’s grave at Kensal Green cemetery three days later.

(c) Kathryn Summerwill 2009

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