The E-BNR aims to build a comprehensive & unique cross-artform guide to
the British neo-Romantic tradition,
from 1880 to the present day.
While the British Romantics of 1789-1824 have spawned a vast industry of
publishers, conferences & tourism, the later neo-Romantic traditions
remain largely neglected. The E-BNR is aimed at bringing this hidden
tradition to light.
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WHAT IS NEO-ROMANTICISM ?
Neo-Romantic artists have drawn their inspiration
from artists of the age of Romanticism or earlier.
Characteristic themes in their work include a
mystical approach to the British landscape...
ENTRY: Palmer, Samuel.
Samuel Palmer (b. Newington, London, January 27, 1805 - d. Redhill, Surrey, May 24, 1881)
was an English landscape painter, etcher and printmaker. He was also a prolific writer. Palmer was a
key figure in English Romanticism and produced visionary pastoral paintings.
Palmer, who was born in a street off the Old Kent Road, London, was the son of a
bookseller and sometime Baptist minister, and was raised by a pious nurse.
Palmer painted churches from around age twelve, and first exhibited Turner-inspired works
at the Royal Academy at the age of fourteen. He had little formal training, and did
not have a formal schooling.
Through John Linnell, Palmer met William Blake in 1824. Blake's influence can be seen
in the works he produced over the next ten years or so, which are generally reckoned
to be his greatest. These works were of landscapes around Shoreham, near Sevenoaks
in the north of the county of Kent. He purchased a run-down cottage, nicknamed
"Rat Abbey", and it was there that he lived from 1826 to 1835, depicting the area
as a demi-paradise, mysterious and visionary, and often shown in sepia shades under
moon and star light. There Palmer also associated with the group of Blake-influenced
artists known as The Ancients (including George Richmond and Edward Calvert).
They were among the few who ever saw the Shoreham paintings since, as a result of
attacks by critics in 1825, Palmer only ever opened those early portfolios to selected friends.
Palmer's somewhat disreputable father - Samuel Palmer senior - also moved to the Shoreham area,
his brother Nathaniel having offered him an allowance that would "make him a gentlemen" and
so restore the good name of the family. Samuel Palmer senior rented half of the
Queen Anne-era 'Waterhouse' which still stands by the River Darent at Shoreham and
is now given the slightly grander-sounding name of 'Water House'. Palmer's nurse,
Mary Ward, and his other son William joined him there. The Waterhouse was used
to accommodate overflow guests from "Rat Abbey", but Samuel Palmer junior (the artist)
did not live there or work there. That he did is simply a contemporary myth promoted
by the local tourism board, based on the confusion generated by the famous son
having the same name as his father.
After returning to London in 1835, and purchasing a house there in Marylebone,
Palmer's work became less mystical and more conventional. His health had also
returned, and he was recently married to Hannah daughter of John Linnell. He
had known Hannah since she was a child, and when they married she was nineteen,
he thirty-two. He sketched in Devonshire and Wales at around this time. His
peaceful vision of rural England had been disillusioned by the violent rural
discontent of the early 1830s, his small financial legacy was running out, and
so he decided that he needed to produce work which was more in line with
public taste if he was to earn an income for himself and his wife. He
began to turn more to watercolour, then gaining great popularity in England.
To further this aim, in 1837 the couple embarked on a two-year honeymoon to Italy,
made possible by money from Hannah's parents. In Italy his palette became brighter,
sometimes to the point of garishness, but he made many fine sketches and studies
that would later be useful in producing new paintings. Yet on his return to
London Palmer sought patrons with only limited success, and for more than two
decades was obliged to work as a drawing master until he moved away from
London in 1862. To add to his financial worries, he had returned to
London to find that his dissolute brother William had pawned all of his
early paintings, and Samuel was obliged to pay a large sum to redeem them.
By all accounts Samuel was an excellent teacher, but the work with students
inevitably reduced the time he could devote to his own art.
From the early 1860s he gained some measure of critical success for his later
landscapes, which once again had a touch of the early Shoreham work about them -
most notable of these is the sketches for and etching of "The Lonely Tower" (1879).
He had become a full member of the Water Colour Society in 1854, and its annual
show gave him a yearly goal to work towards.
His best late works include a series of large watercolours illustrating Milton's
poems L’allegro and Il penseroso and his etchings, a medium in which he worked
from 1850 onwards, including a set illustrating Virgil. In these works, a measure
of his old visionary approach to landscape appeared once again.
He lived in various places, including a small cottage and then an unaffordable
villa both at Kensington, then a cottage at Reigate. But it was only when a small
measure of financially security came his way at last, that was he able to move
to Furze Hill House in Redhill, Surrey, from 1862. Nevertheless he could not even
afford to have a daily newspaper delivered to Redhill, suggesting that his financial
circumstances there were still tight.
Samuel Palmer is buried, with his wife, in Reigate churchard.
Samuel Palmer's dismal son, Herbert Palmer, destroyed large amounts of the Shoreham work
in 1909, burning:
"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".
Palmer was largely forgotten until being rediscovered in 1926 through a show curated
by Martin Hardie at the Victoria & Albert Museum,
"Drawings, Etchings and Woodcuts made by Samuel Palmer and other Disciples of William Blake". There
was also an accompanying book by Lawrence Binyon, The Followers of William Blake (1926) that featured
an excellent portfolio of work by Palmer.
But it took until the early 1950s for his reputation to really start to recover, stimulated
by Geoffrey Grigson's 280-page book Samuel Palmer (1947) and later by an exhibition
of the Shoreham work in 1957 and by Grigson's 1960 selection of Palmer's writing.
His reputation now rests mainly on his Shoreham work, but some of his later work
has recently received more appreciation.
The Shoreham work has had a powerful influence on many English artists since
being rediscovered. Palmer was a notable influence on Robin Tanner,
Graham Sutherland, Paul Drury,
Eric Ravilious, the glass engraving of Laurence Whistler,
and Clifford Harper. He also inspired a resurgence in twentieth-century landscape
printmaking, which began amongst students at Goldsmiths' College in the 1920s.
In 2005 the British Museum collaborated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to
stage the first truly major retrospective of his work, timed to co-incide
with the bicentenary of Palmer's birth. The show ran from October 2005 – January 2006.
It will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March - May 2006.
Lister, Raymond. Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Samuel Palmer (1988)
Lister, Raymond. The Paintings of Samuel Palmer (1986)
Samuel Palmer gallery