Palmer had first discovered the village of Shoreham, which lies some thirty miles to the south-east of London, in 1824 and over the next decade this rural part of Kent would intoxicate him. When looking back on his life, Palmer always considered these years to be amongst his happiest and it was undoubtedly at Shoreham that he created his boldest and most influential pictures.
During the latter part of the 1820s and early 1830s Palmer was the leading figure in an artistic brotherhood that referred to themselves as the ‘Ancients.’ The group included fellow artists Frederick Tatham, Edward Calvert, George Richmond, Henry Walter, Welby Sherman and Francis Oliver Finch, as well as Palmer’s cousin, the stock-broker, John Giles. These friends were united by their interest in medieval art, the assertion that ancient man was superior to modern and their idolisation of the great visionary painter and poet William Blake.
They regularly descended on Shoreham, firstly staying with Palmer at his dilapidated cottage – which was fondly known as Rat Abbey – and then, after 1828, at The Water House, a large home that Palmer’s father had leased near to the River Darent. There, the ‘Ancients’ deliberately turned their backs on a world rapidly becoming more modern and immersed themselves in the landscape, exploring it by day and often by night.
The present work is ‘an extremely fine and carefully worked’ example of Palmer’s monochrome drawings.1 Palmer himself referred to these as his ‘blacks’ and he seems to have exhibited a number of them at the Royal Academy in 1832.2 Other drawings from this group survive in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Tate Britain and the British Museum in London and the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.3 As with those works, Palmer has here absorbed the landscape and atmosphere of Shoreham and conjured up an image of great poetry, which exudes not only a sense of spirituality but also a feeling of the pastoral idyll. Remarkably, he succeeds in conveying these powerful undercurrents through an exploration of light and shade, combined with a refined use of the ink and of scratching out.
The vast majority of surviving works that Samuel Palmer created while under the spell of Shoreham are now housed in international museums. Since the year 2000, only three comparable works by Palmer have appeared at auction and it is necessary to go back as far as 1995 to find the last time a major example of one of his ‘blacks’ was sold.4
1. W. Vaughan et al, Samuel Palmer 1805-1881 Vision and Landscape, exh. cat., London/New York 2005-6, p. 147
2. Ed. R. Lister, The Letters of Samuel Palmer, Oxford 1974, p. 57 (Letter to George Richmond, 21 September 1832)
3. Vaughan et al, exhib. cat., op.cit., 2005-6, nos. 72-79
4. See London, Christies, 7 July 2009, lot 47 (A Cornfield with Windmill and Spire seen under a Crescent Moon); London, Christies, 11 June 2003, lot 5 (The Golden Valley); London, Christies, 8 June 2000, lot 111 (Oak Tree and Beech, Lullingstone Park); London Sotheby’s, 12 April 1995, lot 97 (A Cornfield, Shoreham at Twilight)
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