See incredible timeslip pictures of Norwich now...and 200 years ago
- Credit: Nick Stone/John Crome
In stunning images merging the great romantic landscape paintings of John Crome with his own photography, Nick Stone reveals layers of Norwich history.
Pictures of modern Norwich bleeding into wartime ruins and rubble are a haunting reminder of the history of our landscape. City photographer and artist Nick Stone has made dozens of these ghost pictures, merging images of Norwich during the Second World War with his photographs of the same places today.
Now he has created eight new ghost pictures blending the paintings of Norwich landscape artist John Crome with photographs of the same scenes more than 200 years later.
They go on show at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell on Saturday, May 22.
Nick spent much of the first lockdown last year following Crome through deserted city streets to find the scenes he painted and capture them as contemporary photographs. He had to work out exactly where the artist stood to create paintings such as Norwich River Afternoon, photograph the modern view and painstakingly knit them together.
“It’s kind of seeing inside Crome’s head. You are very held by his stance, his position," said Nick.
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In one image modern redbrick homes look across the Wensum to women washing clothes in the river. In another, the people Crome painted on a boat, drifting through a tranquil river scene float between his century and ours, with the faint lines of modern buildings pressing towards vivid 18th century cottages which no longer exist.
Crome’s Norwich: 1821 and 2021 runs at the Museum of Norwich until September 18, in conjunction with a major exhibition of Crome’s work at Norwich Castle.
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Crome, once hailed as one of England’s three greatest landscape painters, was born in Norwich in 1768 and lived and worked in the city all his life. The son of a weaver, he was apprenticed to a coach and sign painter where he learned to mix colours and paint. He went on to teach art and co-founded the country’s first art society outside London, now renowned worldwide as the Norwich School of Painting. He died exactly 200 years ago, and a century later was ranked alongside Constable and Turner as one of England’s greatest landscape painters.
Nick, a graphic designer and magazine art director, began re-photographing street scenes in 2010, when he discovered his own home had been damaged in the war and that houses nearby had completely vanished. “And once I had started noticing I couldn’t stop,” he said. His search for new ways to present old images became a series of pictures and then exhibitions. As well as his ghost pictures of the Norwich Blitz he has blended images and maps of First World War trenches with his own pictures taken a century later, and also creates haunting photographs of Norfolk landscapes, focusing on what people leave behind, a crossover between the visible and vanished from archaeology, ruins, stories and legends to collections of old photographs.
“I’m fascinated by landscapes, both urban and rural,” he said.
As a graphic designer he has worked for many museums and heritage projects and Jenny Caynes, curator at the Museum of Norwich, explained how the idea of commissioning Nick to explore Crome’s work came about.
“We already knew Nick’s work well through his Bridewell History Wall display at the museum which re-creates Norwich’s skyline through a mosaic of 9,000 images donated by the public,” she said. “Nick has also produced haunting ‘Blitz ghosts’ images, superimposing archive photos of the impact of the Second World War on Norwich with the same locations today. We felt it would be a fascinating development of this technique of melding old and new images, known as re-photography, for Nick to follow in another artist’s footsteps. We’re thrilled with the result which combines the perspectives of two artists working in two different media, two centuries apart.”
Nick said: "Some of the places, the real pastoral scenes, are not really there any more. One is basically a huge flyover." However others can be precisely mapped on to the 21st century view. At New Mills, beside the river Wensum as it flows into the city centre, the view John Crome painted has changed but Nick said many of the buildings have kept the same footprint. “New Mills is fairly instantly recognisable. Out of all of them it was the easiest to do because so much of it is still there in terms of where the buildings are and the river. Although there are people wading in it which I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to do there now!”
Today the buildings along the Wensum near Westwick Street are mainly residential but Crome's Back of the New Mills shows people living alongside mills and workshops where corn was ground, wool cleaned, silk produced and leather tanned.
“It’s seeing how time is layered and how a landscape painted more than 200 years ago still retains certain features,” he said.
In another painting he discovered that while an archway painted by Crome, no longer exists, the space has become the entrance to modern St Martin’s Close, near Oak Street. As Nick explored Crome’s locations he made discoveries about the pictures themselves. “This included revelations about a few places we thought we understood but didn't fully, and realising how little in some respects of the Norwich he recorded in the late 18th and early 19th centuries still exists,” he said.
Although Nick devotes much of his time to collecting and interpreting images of the past he said: “I’m a bit of a pragmatist. I understand that landscapes have to change. But I would love to see a city gate intact.”
Crome’s Norwich: 1821 and 2021, at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell from May 22 to September 18, brings Crome’s work to the attention of a new generation in a series of beautiful and intriguing images. To accompany the exhibition Nick has also created a self-guided trail around some of Crome’s locations which is available as a leaflet and online. For more of his work visit his Invisible Works website.
The major exhibition of Crome’s work at Norwich Castle runs until September 5. A Passion for Landscape: Rediscovering John Crome marks the 200th anniversary of his death and is the first major exhibition of his work for more than 50 years.