Meeting Samuel Palmer

My only (temporary) disappointment with our recent
visit to the Ashmolean was the disappearance of the Samuel Palmer drawings. I remembered them being in a glass topped display cabinet, covered with aged green velvet covers, which one had to lift in order to worship these little masterpieces.
I can't remember the first time I discovered Palmer's work, but I am sure it coincided with my arrival in Oxford. I do remember an instant connection with his pastoral scenes and unlike some of my other early mentors, he has remained a firm favourite.

In the end we went to the information desk and were told that the drawings were now in the Print Room; would we like to see them? By now we'd been traipsing about for three hours and our eyes were on stalks, but it was too good an offer to refuse. Within five minutes we were reverently examining six of Palmer's most popular works, which I am sure many people will instantly recognise.

The light was such that flashless photos (allowed) did not come out terribly well ; but the nature of Palmer's technique - thick lines of inks and gums combined with washes - means that even professional reproductions are not true to the originals; the raised surfaces can be just detected even in the postcards sold in the museum shop. Here they glint with a blue-ish hue.

Another thing a postcard does not really capture is the exquisite detailing - everywhere there are points of interest and captivating little scenarios. These works were created when Palmer was still young. He seems to have had a fairly difficult life, losing his mother when he was thirteen, which seems to have coincided with his decision to become an artist; somewhat parallel to my own experience.
For me, these are his best works, created when he was only twenty and in one of what must have been one of the happiest periods of his life,
when he lived at Shoreham, surrounded by like-minded young visionaries inspired by William Blake and a romantic, nostalgic yearning for a simpler, rustic life.
Familiar as I am with these artworks, I still found new things to delight, such as the tiny focal points, which lead the eye beyond the foreground to miniature landscapes and the hint of lands beyond. Most of all, it reminded me of the tiny patches of the Cotswolds which still retain their pastoral beauty.

At last we remembered more prosaic things - our tired feet and that it was past lunchtime. We said a fond farewell to Samuel Palmer and swiftly headed to the Three Goat's Heads, one of the best pubs in Oxford, and a meeting with another Samuel. A pint of Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout, a welcome, if earthy comedown from our artistic wanderings.


tut-tut said...

What a treat to be able to examine them so closely. Thanks for all the details!

Cat said...

I'm so glad you got to see them and thank you for sharing them with us. I had not heard of him or seen his work. Now, I have someone new to do a bit of research on. Have a fun day!

Yarrow said...

I can see why you love Samuel Palmer's work so much. Lovely pictures and a pint afterwards sounds like a perfect finish to the day :)

Catherine Hayward said...

Lovely images - thanks for sharing your photos!

Janet Metzger, Artist said...

Dear Gretel...I just received my wonderful and very appreciated postcard in the mail yesterday. What a lovely surprise! I found all the little features you pointed out and then spent another 30 minutes looking for more hidden treasures. Do you think Samuel meant to keep us that occupied? Thank you again for thinking of me ;-)
your friend across the pond,
PS..Of course I don't understand why a pint of Samuel Stout was not included ;-(

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Ha, ha, another rabbit! I do remembering Samuel Palmer from my art days at the university. We got to meet him in slides in a screen in an auditorium.....Lovely tree shapes.....

Acornmoon said...

Samuel Palmer was one of the first artists who's work I fell in love with. Those rounded hills, magical moons together with so many decorative details, grasses, fruits and leaves. I remember my first art book had a Palmer drawing of a pear tree.

I don't think I have ever appreciated the textural side of his work, like you say these do not show up in reproductions.

Next time we visit Oxford we shall follow your example and look them out. We might even indulge in a swift half or two of the other!

Jess said...

Thanks for the reminder! It's been years since I'd previously visited the Ashmoleon and had forgotten these were there, so beautifully rendered and such detail! I'll be sure to seek them out next time :)xx

Julia Kelly said...

thanks for the introduction to this amazing illustrator!

Frances said...

PG, I'd not heard of Samuel Palmer before your wonderful introduction. Now...I will have to do some investigating over at The Met. I just feel sure that the Print Study Room there might have some Palmers.

Thank you for taking those photos which do give a clue to the texture of the pictures. The details are grand, stories within stories.

Once again, you are showing what a wonderful teacher you are. xo

Karen said...

Such beautiful illustrations! Thanks for sharing :)

School on the Heath said...

What a perfect way to spend a day.
Thank you for sharing and introducing us to the Ashmoleun and it's treasures. Wish we were

Unknown said...

LOVE Palmer! The best of the artists who followed Blake.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your trip and introducing me to the delights of Samuel Palmer - at first glance they reminded me of Arthur Rackham and his beautiful art work.
I'll definitely check out the Ashmolean when I next visit Oxford.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I have always loved his work. I think sometimes if I concentrate hard enough, I might just slip inside one.

Sue said...

Lucky you, and what a lovely rarefied-looking place to be in too. I have always loved Samuel Palmer, I felt an immediate connection to him at an early age - it's funny isn't it how some artists can do this - and always interesting to connect with others who feel the same. I did enjoy this post.

Anonymous said...

I guess I should have paid more attention in art classes at school! Thank you for filling in a large gap in my education. The drawings are wonderful - I love things where you keep finding details that you miss the first time you look.
Sorry I'm still showing up with my google ID, it's most annoying as it doesn't give a link to me!!
Love, Anne

Anonymous said...

I have loved Palmer's work ever since I first clapped eyes on them in the late 70's. He was and is a major inspiration in my work, but I don't think I've seen his work 'live'.....yet!

Elizabeth said...

I think I fell in love with Palmer on my first visit to the Tate when I was 13.
Lots of sketch books of mine filled with faux Palmers
completely missing his delicacy and sensitivity!!!
He is such a quintessentially English delight.

THANK YOU so much for reminding me.

Elizabeth Rhiannon said...

What a wonderfully perfect day :) and you have a good eye, Palmers art is amazing, i love it!

Soozcat said...

Beautiful. And yes, you can really see Blake's influence. I have this nifty postcard with a Palmer reproduction on it (thanks!) and there's a surreal dreamlike quality to the whole composition... it's reminiscent of a sentence from a favorite book, as the protagonist tries to explain the weird quality of the moonlight: "All the plants in the garden were looking at me."

Mlle Miracle said...

Ay, Gretel, when I read your blog I always learn something about art, about life, about the human being and, of course, about you!
One day, I'll like to come and see all this beautiful places you describe in a such amazing way.
I didn't know Samuel Palmer, so I have homework to do, now!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Beautiful work . Thankyou for the introduction , I must find out more .


Another Samuel Palmer fan here and agree they capture a wonderfully innocent unspoilt countryside. I have a print of his beautiful Early Morning in my study. Would love to see it in the flesh, so thank you - now I know where to go.

Michelle Palmer said...

Wonderful to be introduced to such a fantastic artist~ thank you!
I lost my dad to cancer a week before I turned 13... seems that is when I became an artist, too. Something in my heart.
Wishing you all that is wonderful~
So happy for you!

Jackie said...

What an absolute treat. I've wanted to go to the Ashmolean for years, and I love the works of Samuel Palmer..so thank you!
(Oh and thanks for telling me about the Wingham featured Artist thing. Its me this month! I wouldn't have done it if you hadn't told me about it.)

justherdingcats said...

Hi Gretel,

I met you at Donnas house in Devon a year or so ago.I have been looking in on occasion to your lovely blog. Yesterday I started a blog myself- it has taken me forever to get started but now im obsessed! Anyway if you would like to have look its called just herding cats.

anyway i am going to try andadd you as a link but im rather novice at the whole thing right now!!