|European Watercolors — Samuel Palmer - The Poet|
|Samuel Palmer - The Poet
Signed l.l.: S. PALMER
Medium: Watercolor and pencil on card
Dimensions: Paper size: 8" x 17"; frame size: 13 ¾" x 22 ¾"
Provenance: With the Fine Art Society, 1881; J. G. Pilcher, 1961; Mrs. J. G. Pilcher, Her sale, Sotheby's, 9th April 1992, lot 115; private collection
Exhibitions: London, Society of Painters in Watercolour, 1862, no. 259; Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery, Exhibition of Works of Samuel Palmer, 1961, no. 44
Literature: Raymond Lister, Catalogue raisonné of the works of Samuel Palmer, 1988, no. 701
A key figure of English Romantic painting, Samuel Palmer represented the pastoral, intuitive and nostalgic aspects of landscape painting, at their most intense. Although a close associate of William Blake (1757-1827), his approach to subject matter was markedly different, creating visionary works that display a Neo-Platonic love of nature.
In the deeply Romantic painting of The Poet, Palmer presents a youthful goatherder reading poetry to two young girls while his sheep graze nearby. Accompanying the watercolor at the Society of Painters in Watercolour exhibition in 1863 was the inscription, "the sisters listening to his verse were moved/ And Madeline, the simple goatherd, loved."
The 'little long' format of the work, favored by the artist during the middle and later part of his career, allows for the inclusion of an expansive pastoral landscape, viewed from a high vantage point. Its appearance is an amalgam of the Italian, Welsh and southern English countryside, the three places which influenced the Palmer the most.
The high degree of finish and richly textured quality of this work indicate that this is a mature work by the artist. The outstretched branches of the tree cast dappled shade over the captivated group whilst in the background the bright noonday sun bathes the rolling hill. A small river meanders across a patchwork of fields and disappears into the blue mist of the horizon.
Samuel Palmer is one of Britain's greatest artists who specialized in the depiction of familiar landscape scenes, using rich forms and vivid colors. He started to paint at the age of thirteen and a year later had his work exhibited at both the British Institution and the Royal Academy. In 1822 he met the artist John Linnell and under his influence began to look at the work of old masters such as Dürer and developed his own highly original style. It was Linnell who introduced Palmer to William Blake and this was to the most influential encounter of his life. By the 1820s Palmer lived with his father in Bloomsbury and frequently visited the British Museum where he drew the antique sculptures and studied the work of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century engravers such as Dürer, Van Leyden and Bonasone.
Between 1826 and 1835, Palmer lived in the village of Shoreham in north-west Kent. His grandfather had left him a legacy and thus, he did not have to worry about earning a living. While at Shoreham, Palmer was frequently visited by members of 'the Ancients' - a close-knit artistic group that had formed around him in about 1824. These artists rejected modern society in order to resurrect the spiritual values of earlier times. Membership of the group led to each artist producing his most memorable work, including The Magic Apple Tree and The Sleeping Shepherd.
The year 1835 marked a significant change for Samuel Palmer. He moved from Shoreham back to London, and began to seek a new direction for his art. He visited the West Country and Wales in search of new subjects, and after his marriage to Hannah Linnell in 1837, set off for a two year honeymoon to Italy.
In 1843 Samuel Palmer was elected an associate of the Old Water-Colour Society, exhibiting there regularly, and around 1850 he took up etching. His work was well received by the critics and usually found buyers, but he continued to struggle. He was forced to rely on financial support from Linnell, as well as supplement his income by teaching.
In 1862, Palmer and his family moved to a suburban villa in Redhill, near the Linnells' home. Palmer increasingly lived the life of a recluse and relations with his wife Hannah became distant. At the time of his death on 24 May 1881, Palmer's critical reputation was higher than it had ever been. A retrospective of his work was held later the same year in the Fine Art Society.