- Mysterious Wisdom: The Life and Work of Samuel PalmerOur PickBy Rachel Campbell-Johnston
- Samuel Palmer: The Visionary YearsBy Geoffrey Grigson
- Samuel Palmer and 'The Ancients'By Raymond Lister
- A Memoir of Samuel PalmerOur PickBy Samuel Palmer, A.H. Palmer, and F.G. Stephens
- Samuel Palmer RevisitedBy Simon Shaw-Miller and Sam Smiles
- Samuel Palmer: Shadows on the WallOur PickBy William Vaughan
- Samuel Palmer 1805-1881: Vision and LandscapeOur PickBy William Vaughan and Elizabeth E. Barker
- Samuel PalmerBy Timothy Wilcox
Important Art and Artists of Ancients
This rhapsodic early morning scene indicates the ability of the Ancients, particularly Palmer, to produce work at once deeply rooted in antiquity and oddly formally radical. The curvaceous shape of the hare in the foreground and the large, almost topiary-like tree to the left, which immediately draws the eye, is complemented by the gentler rolling forms of the hills. The use of a sepia wash grants the piece the soft atmosphere of early morning light, while the busy depiction of foliage suggests the influence of medieval illuminated texts or tapestries. Although the work is produced in pen and ink, the detailed crosshatching and line-work has much in common with engraving.
Produced early in Palmer's Shoreham phase, Early Morning is one of many works in which a gently receding landscape is populated with varied foliage. The formal arrangement, with the hilly sweep of land drawing the eye towards the horizon, is reminiscent of works of Brueghel's such as The Hunters in the Snow (1565), while Lister suggests the influence of the Renaissance painter Adam Elsheimer's The Realm of Venus, which includes similarly dense foliage. Lister also notes that the odd shape of the tree to the left mirrors those found in medieval illuminated manuscripts . But the formal extravagance of the piece is above all in the spirit of Blake, whose bodies and landscapes often seem to pulsate and distort with spiritual energy. The first plate of "The Echoing Green", from Blake's 1789 version of Songs of Innocence, contains a domelike tree very similar to Palmer's, while the engraving-like quality of Palmer's brushwork is indebted to a method that Blake made his own.
This work is one of Palmer's best-loved, and its influence can be sensed in pieces from the Palmer revivalist era of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. Landscapes by British artists such as Graham Sutherland, John Nash, and John Piper are heavily indebted to Early Morning and similar pieces in their expressionistic shape and color, and in their evocation of the verdant, fecund English countryside.
Palmer's Magic Apple Tree is a masterpiece of The Ancients' Shoreham years, suffused with golden light and animated by a curious quality of motion or liquidity. Nestled in a woodland glade, a shepherdess tends to her flock while playing a pipe, enclosed by the branches of autumn trees on one side and an earth bank on the other. To her right a flock of sheep nestles, the mottling of their wool mirroring that of the orange foliage above. Formally, the piece presents a harmony of enveloping, circular lines, as if an encompassing ring of leaves, light and sky were offering magical protection to the flock. The brushwork is almost proto-Impressionist in its deliberate, painterly quality, while the bold, loose shapes and colors, emotionally expressive rather than naturalistic, predict the approach of Expressionism or Fauvism.
Raymond Lister notes that John Linnell had commissioned Palmer to make some studies from nature in 1828, upon which this work was based. Again, the influence of Blake is clear. Lister suggests that the piping shepherdess evokes the introductory lines of Blake's Songs of Innocence (1789) - "Piping Down the Valleys Wild" - while the strange, globular appearance of Palmer's sheep may be based on the plate for Blake's "The Lamb", from songs of Songs of Innocence, rather than any real-life models . At the same time, the image of the shepherdess is clearly a classical, Arcadian one. Palmer's son A.H. Palmer suggested of this work that "the artist's passionate love for Ceres and Pomona [Roman goddesses of agriculture and fruitful abundance] has led him from the land of plain fact into fairy-land ."
A.H. Palmer goes on to note that "throughout his life [Palmer] reveled in richness and abundant fruitfulness." It is these qualities that have made this painting enduringly popular. As Palmer's biographer Rachel Campbell-Johnston states, "The Magic Apple Tree glows like a great autumn bonfire....... Colour becomes a pure sensual pleasure. These are paintings to glut the appetite ."
In this late work from the Shoreham period, we find Palmer's color palette darkening and his attention turning - to some extent - towards the realities of country life rather than an exalted Arcadian vision. The gleaners - laborers gathering in the harvested crops - are nonetheless probably the subject of a subtle religious allegory, perhaps reaping the rewards of honest Christian labor or, as the Tate's catalogue notes suggest, working to consolidate the "green and pleasant land" of Blake's "Jerusalem." Around them the dark trees glow gorgeously with evening light, the last slivers of blue visible on the horizon.
Palmer's darkened color palette is partly achieved through the use of a mahogany panel as a base. But it may also reflect the mixing of oil paint with lighter tempera tones, a technique deployed for a number of Palmer's Shoreham pictures. According to A.H. Palmer, "[t]he oil pictures were often begun in tempera...and were wrought not only to a great extent in the technical manner, but also...in the devout spirit of some of the mediaeval pictures ." Lister suggests an affinity with Breughel, particularly his famous gleaning scene The Harvesters (1865 ).
The Tate's catalogue notes on The Gleaning Field suggest that this image of pastoral arcadia "contrasted with the harsher contemporary reality of change and social unrest in the countryside ." At the same time, the encroaching gloom of Palmer's image might itself be read as a kind of eulogy to a vision of rural life which was already fading. By 1833, visits from the other Ancients to Shoreham were becoming less frequent. Two years later Palmer himself would return to London in straitened circumstances. Nonetheless, this image stands out as of the most captivating products of his time in Kent.