This drawing, taken from one of Samuel Palmer’s sketch books, depicts Mepham Barn in Shoreham. In an articulated design of the landscape, the collection of farm buildings is framed by a wooded thicket and an expansive crop field, creating a cohesive composition. Covering the double page are multiple hand-written annotations given by the artist, noting the colours and hues of the reality of the scene depicted.
Between 1825 and 1832 Palmer executed brilliant studies of the landscape around Shoreham in Kent, a small village just south of London, while he lived there. The seven years formed the artist’s most fertile period during which he was able to capture an intense response to a natural harmony born of moonlight and rural scenes. Although after he left almost half a century remained to him in which to paint, he never regained the spiritual vitality of these early years.
Palmer’s work at Shoreham was made in isolation, intensely personal, part of a mystical and, often, overtly religious experience, shared only with a few other people. Whilst at Shoreham, Palmer looked long and hard at his surroundings, trying to penetrate the secrets of nature, the structures, and especially the associations with his imaginary landscapes. Palmer’s earliest documented visit to Shoreham was in the summer of 1826 but it is often assumed that he visited the village as early at 1824 and had a connection to the location from such an early date.
This sketch of a selection of farm buildings alludes to one of Palmer’s favourite motifs in his earlier works – the primitive cottage. The inclusion of this can be found in a number of his drawings in pen and ink from the end of the 1820s. Palmer wrote in his 1824 sketchbook, ‘whatever you do, guard against bleakness & grandeur and try for the primitive cottage feeling’. For Palmer, the ‘pastoral essence’ that he strove to capture was dependant on the primitive cottage, the harmonious interaction of man with nature and the abundance of nature.
This is a rare opportunity to purchase such a work. In 1909, many of his Shoreham works were destroyed by his surviving son Alfred Herbert Palmer, who burnt “a great quantity of father’s handiwork … Knowing that no one would be able to make head or tail of what I burnt; I wished to save it from a more humiliating fate”. The destruction included “sketchbooks, notebooks, and original works, and lasted for days”.
Samuel Palmer was a British landscape painter, etcher and printmaker. He also was a prolific writer and was a key figure in Romanticism in Britain and produced visionary pastoral paintings.
Palmer was born in London, the son of a bookseller and a nurse. Palmer painted churches from around age twelve, and first exhibited Turner-inspired works at the Royal Academy at the age of fourteen. Through John Linnell, he met William Blake in 1824. Blake’s influence can be seen in work he produced over the next ten years (generally reckoned to be his greatest). The works were landscapes around Shoreham, near Sevenoaks in the west of Kent. They were among the few who saw the Shoreham paintings as, resulting from attacks by critics in 1825, he opened his early portfolios only to selected friends.
After returning to London in 1835, and using a small legacy to purchase a house in Marylebone, Palmer produced less mystical and more conventional work. Part of his reason in returning to London was to sell his work and earn money from private teaching. He had better health on his return to London, and was by then married to Hannah, daughter of the painter John Linnell who he had known since she was a child, and married when she was nineteen and he was thirty-two. Palmer turned more to watercolour which was gaining popularity in England.
From the early 1860s he gained some measure of critical success for his later landscapes, which had a touch of the early Shoreham work about them – most notable is the etching of The Lonely Tower (1879). He became a full member of the Water Colour Society in 1854, and its annual show gave him a yearly goal to work towards.Palmer’s later years were darkened by the death in 1861, at the age of 19, of his elder son Thomas More Palmer – a devastating blow from which he never fully recovered. He lived in various places later in his life, including a small cottage and an unaffordable villa both in Kensington, where he lived at 6 Douro Place, then a cottage at Reigate. But it was only when a small measure of financial security came his way, that was he able to move to Furze Hill House in Redhill, Surrey, from 1862.
Palmer died in Redhill, Surrey, and is buried with his wife in St Mary’s, Reigate churchyard.