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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman

Caricature and Social Satire

J. D. Croome
British, active 1839–1852
A Christmas Carol (recto); The Family Picture (verso), n.d.
Pen and ink on wove paper
8 7/16 x 6 3/8 in, 21.43 x 16.19 cm (sheet)
Inscription: (recto) bottom in graphite and pen, "J.D. Croome", "A Christmas Carol", and the monogram, "JDC"; top pen, "4"; on the singers’ book, "While Shepherds"; (verso) bottom, in graphite and pen, "The Family Picture"; [in another hand] "Vicar of Wakefield."
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2006.11.14


While the life and career of the Victorian painter J. D. Croome remain largely a mystery, the style and subject matter of these drawings strongly suggest that they are preparatory for book illustrations.1 The systematic use of hatching for tonal values, the strong outlining of forms, and the overall linear nature of the drawings would be appropriate as models for wood engraving, which was the dominant medium of book illustration in the first half of the nineteenth century.2

In the mid-nineteenth century, a nostalgic interest in pre-Cromwell Christmas traditions swept Victorian England following such publications as Davies Gilbert’s Some Ancient Christmas Carols (1822), William Sandys’ Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (1833), and Thomas K. Hervey’s The Book of Christmas (1837).3 Charles Dickens’ famous novella, A Christmas Carol (1843), was one of the single greatest influences on the rejuvenation of old Christmas traditions in England.4 Despite its suggestive title, Croome’s highly finished recto drawing does not seem to illustrate either an episode in Dickens’ Christmas Carol or the Christmas chapter in The Pickwick Papers, though in style and composition it strongly recalls illustrations of Dickens’ works.5

The more rapidly sketched drawing on the verso illustrates an episode in Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield (1764), one of the most widely read eighteenth-century novels among the Victorians.6 Croome’s drawing recreates the historiated portrait that the Primrose family commissioned in rivalry with their neighbors, "to shew the superiority of our taste in the attitudes."7 Unable to settle on a single historical subject, each family member was depicted in a different guise. "My wife desired to be depicted as Venus…Her two little ones were to be as Cupids by her side, while I in my gown and band, was to present her with my books on the Whistonian controversy. Olivia would be drawn as an Amazon…Sophia was to be a shepherdess...and Moses was to be drest out with an hat and white feather." The local squire insisted on being depicted as Alexander the Great at Olivia’s feet. Satirizing the fashion for historiated portraits, this utterly incoherent painting was also too big to fit through the door of the house.

Interestingly, Croome did not use the illustrations of this scene in earlier editions of the Vicar of Wakefield, most notably those by Thomas Rowlandson.8 In earlier illustrations the artist is shown painting the picture with the family around him. Croome instead depicts the painting itself with each Primrose family member exactly as they are described in Goldsmith’s text.

Charlotte Miller
Michelle McElderry


1. "Croome, J. D." Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.

2. John Buchanan-Brown, Early Victorian Illustrated Books: Britain, France and Germany, 1820–1860, London: The British Library, 2005, xx.

3. Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols, London, 1822; William Sandys, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, London, 1833; Thomas K. Hervey, The Book of Christmas; Descriptive of the Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions, Superstitions, Fun, Feeling, and Festivities of the Christmas Season, New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1845, 121–125.

4. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, London, 1843.

5. Charles Dickens, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, London, 1836, Chapter 28. John Leech provided the illustrations to A Christmas Carol; Phiz (Hablot K. Browne) illustrated The Pickwick Papers.

6. Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield, Oxford World's Classics, ed. Arthur Friedman. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), vii.

7. Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield, 70–71.

8. London, 1817.


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