Co-author with G. B. Cavalcaselle of one of the first modern English-language art histories. Crowe was born to the historian Eyre Evans Crowe (1799-1868). He studied painting with Jean-Louis Baptiste Hubert and Jules Coignet (1798-1860) in the early 1840s in France. He served as a political correspondent for the Morning Chronicle and the Daily News in 1843, providing illustrations and text for the journal. In 1847 a chance meeting with artist and connoisseur Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle led to a fast friendship based on art interests. When Cavalcaselle fled to London as a political exile, they lived in the same house in 1852. This proximity resulted in a collaborative effort of the first modern art histories in the English language. Crowe returned to war reporting, covering the Crimean War for the London Illustrated News in 1856, but the following year, the first of their art history ventures, The Early Flemish Painters, appeared in 1857. Crowe continued to cover news stories, such as the Indian "Sepoy" mutiny for the Times (London) in 1857. In 1860 he began a distinguished career as a diplomat as British consul general for Saxony. Translations (with corrections) of Early Flemish Painters appeared in French (1862), German (1875) and Italian (1899). Crowe and Cavalcaselle continued their collaborations, issuing the first volume of A New History of Painting in Italy (it was in three volumes) in 1864. Their A History of Painting in North Italy appeared in 1871, followed by Crowe's reassignment the following year as consul for Westphalia and the Rhine provinces. Crowe and Cavalcaselle produced two artists biographies, one on Titian (1877) and another on Raphael in 1882. From 1880 forward Crowe acted as the British commercial attaché for Berlin and Vienna. After 1882 he resided in Paris as a commercial attaché for the whole of Europe. The combined publishing efforts of Crowe and Cavalcasselle resulted in some of the earliest and best scholarly surveys in the history of art. As a journalist and native English speaker, Crowe did all of the writing for the books. Cavalcaselle provided a knowledge of art and documents. Their art histories were the first written in English to make use of documentary evidence and research, rather than the hearsay mythology of much of 19th-century art writing. Their books went into numerous editions and are still considered an important part of the literature of art history. The popularity of their books was such that they were issued in German and Italian editions. In 1874 Crowe translated another groundbreaking art history, Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte (1842) by Franz Kugler with revisions by Gustav Waagen. Crow's technical analysis of painting was also groundbreaking. During the height of the debate between authentic versions of Holbein Meyer Madonna, he determined that the Dresden version's binding medium of the pigment could not have been from Holbein's era, soundly negating numerous art historians (Herman Grimm, and Julius Hübner) who had based their opinions on stylistic grounds. Their works were far from faultless. Numerous errors quoted from other scholars and incorporated in the first edition of Early Flemish Painters resulted in Alexandre Pinchart revising the work for the French edition of 1862 (and incorporated in the second English edition). The line engravings were so poor (mechanical reproduction of art did not yet exist) that they are almost unrecognizable to the original (Lane). The German edition was edited by the eminent German scholar Anton Springer.
[all the following written in conjunction with: Cavalcaselle, Giovanni Battista.] The Early Flemish Painters: Notices of their Lives and Works. London, J. Murray, 1857, French, and Pinchart, Alexandre, and Ruelens, Charles. Les anciens peintres flamands: Leur vie et leurs oeuvres. 2 vols. Brussels: F. Heussner, 1862, German, Springer, Anton, ed. Geschichte der altniederländischen Malerei. Leipzig: Hirtzl, 1875; Italian, Storia dell'antica pittura fiamminga. Florence: Le Monnier, 1899; A New History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. 3 vols. London: J. Murray, 1864, Italian, Storia della pittura in Italia dal secolo II al secolo XVI. 11 vols. Florence: Le Monnier, 1885-1908; [revised and translated:] Kugler, Franz, and Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Handbook of Painting: the German, Flemish and Dutch Schools: Based on the Handbook of Kugler, Remodelled by the Late Dr. Waagen. 2 vols. London: J. Murray 1874; and Springer, Anton. Geschichte der altniederlaendischen Malerei. Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1875; Titian: His Life and Times, with Some Account of His Family. 2 vols. London: J. Murray, 1877; Raphael: His Life and Works, with Particular Reference to Recently Discovered Records, and an Exhaustive Study of Extant Drawings and Pictures. 2 vols. London: J. Murray, 1882-1885.
Crowe, Joseph A. Reminiscences of Thirty-five Years of My Life. London: J. Murray, 1895; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 44 (and n. 88-89); Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire de l'art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 236; Lane, Barbara G. "Introduction: The Problem of Two Rogiers." Flemish Painting Outside Bruges, 1400-1500: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986, p. 2; Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, p. 148; Concise Dictionary of National Biography I: 304; Oxford Dictionary of Art. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 143; Saur Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon 22, pp. 454-55;