Crome was born in Norwich on 22 December 1768, the son of John Crome. He seems to have been uneducated, and in 1783 he was apprenticed for seven years to Francis Whisler, a house, coach, and sign painter. His first sketch in oil dates from 1790, and about that date he set up a partnership with Robert Ladbrooke, sharing a garret with him; the young men sketched landscapes in and around Norwich and exhibited at the printsellers Smith and Jagger. In 1792 Crome married Phoebe Berney; the couple had five daughters and six sons. On marrying, Crome became a teacher.
One of Crome's earliest mentors was William Beechey, who worked in Norwich from 1782 and 1787; as a young man he visited him frequently in his London studio. But the person who helped him most significantly at the outset of his career was Thomas Harvey of Catton House, whom he met in about 1790. Harvey was then in the process of building up a fine collection, notably Dutch landscape paintings but also including works by Richard Wilson and Gainsborough, all of which influenced Crome's work.
Crome was largely instrumental in founding, in 1803, the Norwich Society of Artists (of which he became president in 1808), an institution at first primarily a forum for biweekly discussions on art. The first exhibition of the society was held in 1805, and Crome contributed between ten and thirty works regularly every year until his death. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1806, but only showed there at irregular intervals; as he grew older he was an infrequent visitor to London.
Crome's reputation was high throughout Norfolk, not only as a landscape painter but also as an enthusiastic drawing master. Active also as a restorer and dealer, Crome had a shrewd business sense and made a comfortable living. From 1801 until his death he occupied a good-sized house on Gildengate Street in Norwich, and collected pictures, prints, and books. He visited Wales and the Wye Valley with Ladbrooke in 1804, but he made only one journey abroad, to Paris in 1814. He died in his home on 22 April 1821; an exhibition of his works was held that autumn.
[Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 46-48.]
Turner, Dawson. Biographical Memoir, preface to Etchings of Views in Norfolk, by the late John Crome. Norwich, 1838.
Dickes, William Frederick. The Norwich School of Painting. London and Norwich, : 13-149.
Clifford, Derek and Timothy. John Crome. London, 1968.
Hawcroft, Francis W. John Crome 1768-1821. Exh. cat. Norwich Castle Museum; Tate Gallery. London, 1968.
Goldberg, Norman L. John Crome the Elder. 2 vols. Oxford, 1978.
Hemingway, Andrew. The Norwich School of Painters 1803-1833. Oxford, 1979: particularly 10-17.
Moore, Andrew W. The Norwich School of Painters. Norwich, 1985: 19-30.
Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 46-48.