An Outstanding Pupil of John Crome.

By Haydn Brown.

His name was James Stark (19 November 1794 – 24 March 1859), an English landscape painter and a leading member of the Norwich School of Painters. He was elected vice-president of the Norwich Society of Artists in 1828 and became their president in 1829. James had wealthy patrons and, as you would expect, he was consistently praised by the Norfolk Press for his successful career.

James Stark (St Michael Coslany Church_James Sillett (1764–1840)_Norfolk Museums Service)
St Michael Coslany Church, Norwich by James Sillett (1764–1840). Norfolk Museums Service

James Stark was born in Norwich, the youngest son of Michael Stark, an important dye manufacturer in the city, and his wife, Jane Ivory. He was christened on 30 November 1794 at the Church of St Michael Coslany, Norwich, close to the family home. James was the youngest son of eight siblings. His father Michael Stark (1748–1831) was a Scottish-born dyer who had a considerable literary and scientific background; he ran his own dyeing business on Duke Street, Norwich. Michael Stark was also credited with a number of innovations in the dyeing industry, notably the invention of the formula for ‘Norwich Red Madder’ used for dying the once famous ‘Norwich Shawls’.

James Stark (Norwich Shawl Pattern)
A typical Norwich ‘Red Madder’ dyed Shawl.
James Stark (norwich-shawls-1865-fashion)
A fashion plate from 1865 showing how shawls were worn at this time

James Stark, was dogged with poor health throughout his life, but he was compensated with a talent for art which he began displaying whilst being educated at Norwich School; it was here where he became friends with John Berney Crome, the son of the artist John Crome. It was also whilst James was at school that two of his pencil drawings were exhibited in Norwich; that was in 1809. In 1811, at the age of seventeen, he completed his formal education and did, initially, have ambitions to become a farmer – but that was never to be. Instead, and probably unsurprisingly perhaps, he became apprenticed to John Crome for three years. The Master’s influence on his pupil was to be profound from the outset, for it was in the same year as his apprenticeship commenced when Stark’s first exhibited work, outside of Norwich, was exhibited in London; it was his painting ‘A view on King Street River, Norwich’ and was shown at the Royal Academy.

Two letters from John Crome to his teenage pupil still survive. One, dated 3 July 1814 and sent to Stark’s house in London, contains a reminder to submit work to the Norwich Society of Artists’ forthcoming exhibition. The second letter, considered by art historians to be important, reveals how Crome was able to impart his knowledge to his pupils. Amongst other suggestions, the letter encouraged Stark to consider using more “breadth”. Crome certainly had a strong influence on Stark, who was his favourite pupil; the Master’s preoccupation with depicting trees and woodland scenes led Stark to produce many such scenes himself. He was elected as a member of the Norwich Society of Artists in 1812. He exhibited at the British Institution between 1814 and 1818, winning a prize of £50 in 1818.

It was in 1814, following the end of his Norwich apprenticeship, when James Stark moved to London. There he befriended and became influenced by the artist William Collins. In 1817 he became a student at the Royal Academy. The Bathing Place, Morning was sold in 1817 to the Henry Hobart, the Dean of Windsor. Then, for a short period, he shared lodgings with the portrait painter Joseph Clover. During this period, he began to sell paintings to wealthy patrons: both the Marquis of Stafford and the Countess de Grey bought works from him.

James_Stark_-_by_Margaret_Sarah_Carpenter_(1793-1872)_Norfolk Museums Collection)
Undated portrait of James Stark by Margaret Carpenter, Norfolk Museums Collections

After only two years of study in London, debilitating ill health forced him to return to Norwich. There he devoted himself to painting the scenery around the city and executing a series of paintings of Norfolk rivers, which were eventually engraved and published in 1834. During this time, he was regarded by his friends as one of the leaders of the Norwich School of Painters, and was elected Vice-President of the Norwich Society of Artists in 1828 and President in the following year; It was a time when the Society was struggling to survive.

James Stark had married Elizabeth Younge Dinmore of King’s Lynn on 7 July 1821. In 1830, he moved to London, taking up residence in Beaumont Row, Chelsea where Elizabeth Stark died in 1834, three years after the birth of their son, Arthur James Stark. In 1840 Stark moved to Windsor, where he lived for ten years. During this period in his life, he painted many pictures of the scenery along the Thames and in Windsor Great Park, producing images of trees that revealed his improved understanding of their structure. He returned to London in 1849 to further his son’s artistic education, residing at Mornington Place, Camden Town. He lived there until his death in 1859 at the age of 64.

James Stark (Windsor-Castle-Windsor)
Windsor Castle, Windsor and Maidenhead by James Stark.

Development as an artist:
Stark mainly worked in oils, though he was also a watercolourist, and produced drawings in pencil and chalk. He initially followed his teacher John Crome in producing works with soft greys and pinks, in a style similar to that of Crome’s Back of the New Mills (c. 1815). His first important success occurred the same year, when he exhibited The Bathing Place – Morning. His Lambeth, looking towards Westminster Bridge (1818), now in the Yale Centre for British Art collection in New Haven, Connecticut.

James Stark (John Crome)
Portrait of John Crome, by Michael William Sharp. Wikipedia.

Stark’s early paintings were followed by landscapes of a repetitive and stylized kind, generally depicting woodland glades, and for which he is generally best known today. Such works were exhibited under the title Landscape. By the mid-1830s, Stark had moved away from the influence of the Dutch masters and was producing paintings that showed nature less heavily and more freely. These works have more descriptive titles. Not all his critics were pleased: the Norfolk Chronicle complained in 1829 of Stark’s move away from depicting formulaic scenes towards a greater use of bright colours and more brilliant lighting effects. His work during this period in his artistic career became more successful. The numerous sketches of the Norfolk countryside he had previously produced gave his exhibited works a freshness that was previously lacking, and which was more appealing to the critics. Cromer, exhibited at the British Institution in 1837, is a good example of this new kind of work, and shows the influence of his friend William Collins and the Norwich artist John Thirtle. Like many of his later works, it is based on earlier sketch.

James Stark (Cromer (c.1837), Norfolk Museums Collections)
Cromer (c.1837) by James Stark. Norfolk Museums Collections

Like many painters of the Norwich School, Stark produced his own etchings, but these were not exhibited. As they generally lacked a title, they are nowadays difficult to identify and are little known. Geoffrey Searle, in his survey of the etchings produced by the Norwich School, describes Stark’s own etchings as “having a distinctive charm”. The article on Stark in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica noted that:

“his works charm rather by their gentle truth and quietness of manner than by their robustness of view or by their decisiveness of execution”.

Exhibitions and publications:
James Stark exhibited paintings throughout his working life. The Norwich Society of Artists, which was inaugurated in 1803 and held annual exhibitions almost continuously until 1833, exhibited 105 works by Stark from 1809–32, of which seventy-three were landscapes and four were of marine scenes.

During his career he had many wealthy patrons and was regarded in London as a successful provincial artist. He was consistently praised by the Norfolk Press. In 1817, when only twenty-three, he and his friend John Berney Crome had been praised in the Norwich Mercury “for their great and rapid strides”. As well as exhibiting in London and Norwich, Stark had his paintings shown in exhibitions as far afield as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dublin.

Stark wrote an essay on the moral and political influence of the Fine Arts, published in the Norwich Mercury on 26 May 1827, criticising those who were apparently indifferent towards the financial plight of the Norwich Society of Artists.

James Stark is buried in the family grave in Rosary Cemetery in Norwich.

James Stark (Grave_Evelyn Simak)1
Burial plot of the Stark Family
This obelisk marks the burial plot of the Stark family. Buried here are Michael Stark, Senior (d Feb 1831, aged 81) and his wife Jane (d Jun 1843); James Stark (19 Nov 1794 – 24 March 1859); William Stark (d 8 Nov 1863, aged 75) and his wife Mary (19 Dec 1878, aged 85); Jane Elizabeth Skipper, daughter of John and Elizabeth Skipper (July 1814 – 14 June 1852); Michael Stark (2 Dec 1789 – 14 June 1852) and his wife Mary; Mary Jane, daughter of William & Mary Stark (d Jan 7 1827, aged 6 years); their son William (d 12 Nov 1841, aged 22); their youngest daughter Elizabeth (d 22 Jan 1877, aged 42); and their daughter Mary (d 3 Aug 1881, aged 52). Photo: Evelyn Simak.


James Stark (painter) – Wikipedia

Heading Image:
A portrait of the artist James Stark, a leading member of the Norwich School of Painters. Inscribed in pencil at the top of the rolled sheet of paper which Stark is holding, ‘Scenery of the/Yare & Waveney’ (both rivers in Norfolk). This is presumably a reference to the Scenery of the Rivers of Norfolk, engraved from Stark’s pictures by Edward Goodall, William Miller and others, with a text by J. W. Robberds (1827-34). National Portrait Gallery.

2 thoughts on “An Outstanding Pupil of John Crome.”

  1. How wonderful to read about James Stark’s career – thank you so much – and to read about his family’s connection with the Norwich shawl red dye. I own a lovely copy of “Scenery of the Rivers of Norfolk” (1834) and also an Imperial Quarto edition of Part IV of it which includes a fascinating subscriber list. I have a family connection not with the artist but with J W Robberds Jun. (John Warden Robberds) who wrote the text: he was my 3 x great uncle. Thanks again for a very interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

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