Palmer created this watercolour in 1874 at Furze Hill, his gothic villa in Redhill, Surrey. This house was to be his home from 1862 and it was here, according to Leonard Rowe Valpy (d.1884), that some of his ‘most splendid pictures were produced.’ The composition and palette are important factors in allowing him to create such a powerfully poetic image however, the extraordinary variety of his painterly technique is equally significant. The watercolour washes are thin and reveal the extensive pencil underneath. Some passages were then articulated more clearly with brush-point, and overall heightening was achieved by small scratches and areas of bodycolour. Above all the richness is attained by varied applications of gum arabic, which in some areas, have been applied with a palette knife.
In his catalogue raisonné Raymond Lister noted that Old England’s Sunday Evening, with its ‘cornfield, painted almost blade by blade, the little church, with people, both young and old,’ is particularly reminiscent of Palmer’s output during the late 1820s and early 1830s – a period, when living at Shoreham in Kent, he was particularly influenced by William Blake. Lister also suggests that the drawing of the sky and landscape was ‘doubtless based on direct observation’ (R. Lister, Catalogue Raisonne of the Works of Samuel Palmer, 1988, p. 208, no. 669).
Palmer clearly held this particular work in high regard as he selected it as his sole exhibit for the Old Water Colour Society exhibition of 1874. The work was immediately acquired by Joseph Overbury, a stock-broker who owned several other Palmer’s, including an important early set of sepia drawings which are now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
This watercolour is one of the finest from the later years of Palmer’s career, drawing together as it does his vision of Arcadian England, expressed in the work of his early years in Shoreham, and the poetic imagery and richness of the output of his middle years.
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