Cromer, Norfolk, England
1808 to 1809
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The present watercolour is based on a drawing in the Norwich Castle Museum, signed and numbered `2363’. The South Gate was destroyed in 1812, so this view must date from that year or earlier.
Cotman moved to Yarmouth in April of the same year, at the instigation of his friend and patron Dawson Turner. He and his family moved to Bank House, Southtown, a mile from the centre of Yarmouth and they remained there until 1823 when they returned to Norwich. Cotman spent most of his life in Norfolk, away from the artistic centre of London, and perhaps partly because of this, became one of the most original artists of the period. He was fascinated by the monumentality of landscapes and buildings, their structure and the pictorial patterns formed by the interplay of light, shade and colour. In order to capture these, he developed a unique and highly personal style. Cotman’s early training was at Dr Monro’s ‘Academy’ where he was influenced by the work of Thomas Girtin, especially the latter’s use of strong tonal contrasts and restricted palette.
In the present watercolour Cotman has concentrated his view on the gate, merely sketching in the surrounding buildings with slight washes. The interplay of bold light and shadow helps to create a sense of atmosphere and mood, which is characteristic of the artist’s finest works. This image was widely disseminated through the engraving which Cotman produced for his 1817 publication, Specimens of Norman and Gothic Architecture in the county of Norfolk. Although in the engraving, Cotman played down the interaction of light and shade in order to emphasis the architecture.
As an etching by Cotman for Specimens of Norman and Gothic Architecture in the County of Norfolk, 1817