This drawing most likely depicts a view in Lullingstone Park, near the village of Shoreham in Kent. Between 1825 and 1832 Palmer executed brilliant studies of the landscape around Shoreham while he lived there.
Here the artist has focused on a thicket of oak trees, suggesting the texture of the bark, twisted sinews and root systems with his spirited pen work using a skein of circles and tiny scribbles. The drama of the composition is compounded by brilliant lighting.
When drawing directly from nature, as with this remarkable study, Palmer was conscious of trying to emulate the power of verbal description and of his need as an artist to convey such hyperbole in visual terms. Unlike his contemporaries, Palmer drew and painted not according to long-established formulae, in conventional techniques, and for a largely unadventurous public, but in experimental media, following the methods he had largely evolved himself, striving to express the vision he saw in his mind’s eye. As Palmer himself recognised, the fundamental conflict in his art was that between nature and imagination, between his visions and the reality perceived by others, and his early career largely constituted a struggle to reconcile the two strains. Thus, this sketch should be considered as a consummate expression of Palmer’s vision of pastoral poetry at Shoreham.
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.