• Old Master & 19th Century Pain auction at Christies

    Sale 7783

    Old Master & 19th Century Paintings, Drawings & Watercolours Day Sale

    9 December 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 229

    Samuel Palmer, R.W.S. (London 1805-1881 Surrey)

    A Waterfall, North Wales

    Price Realised  


    Samuel Palmer, R.W.S. (London 1805-1881 Surrey)
    A Waterfall, North Wales
    signed with initials 'SP' (lower right)
    pencil, charcoal and watercolour heightened with touches of bodycolour and gold on paper
    17 x 12¾ in. (43.2 x 32.4 cm.)

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    This hitherto unrecorded watercolour is one of a group of studies of waterfalls executed in North Wales between 1835 and 1836. On Palmer's first visit to Wales, in July and August 1835, he only reached as far as Harlech before he ran out of money. His second visit, the following summer lasted longer. Palmer exhibited North Walean subjects at the Royal Academy and the British Institution in 1836 and 1837; he also thought well enough of his treatment of the subject to exhibit an example years later, in 1871, at the Winter Exhibition of the Old Water-Colour Society.

    Raymond Lister lists two watercolours of Rhaeadr Ddu (the Black Waterfall) as 1835 (R. Lister, Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Samuel Palmer, Cambridge, 1988, pp. 104-5, nos. 221-2). He also lists two watercolours and one oil showing Pistyll Mawddach under the same year (Lister, op.cit., pp. 106-7, nos. 226-8). As a product of either 1835 or 1836 he catalogues the Cascade in a Shadow, drawn on the spot, near the Junction of the Machno and Conway, North Wales (Lister, op.cit., p. 111, no. 241; more fully discussed in the context of the whole group of works in Samuel Palmer, exhibition catalogue, London, Leger Galleries, 1992, p. 5, and Samuel Palmer, Vision and Landscape, London, British Museum, and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2005 - May 2006, p. 178, no. 103, illustrated in colour in both). In addition Lister lists five further works as untraced, two of Pistyll Mawddach, two of Pothwyd Fall and one of Dolgarrog Fall, all as executed in 1835 or 1836; some may be works already listed under other numbers and could include our example.

    The identification of the precise site of our waterfall is uncertain. It is a double waterfall, like Rhaeadr Ddu and Pistyll Mawddach and closer to the latter. In treatment it is freer and seems, like A Cascade in Shadow, to be a plein air sketch in pencil, built up later in a sophisticated technique 'to capture the changing effects of a cascade and pool, still and rushing water, in sunlight and shadow' (E.E. Barker in British Museum catalogue, 2005-6, loc.cit.).

    Visit www.christies.com for additional information on this lot. An eye-witness account of Palmer's visit to one of the possible sites of our watercolour is given in a letter by Crabb Robinson of 4 August 1836. Robinson, travelling with his friend the portrait-painter J.J. Masquerier, 'had fallen in with this pedestrian tourist...After our breakfast the yet unknown artist, whose eye of deep feeling and very capacious forehead had inspired me to predilections for him, prepared to set out to one of the waterfalls I had come to see...I was so much pleased with Mr. P. [Palmer] that I mean to buy of him a sketch of Pistl y Cayne to which we went by the road on the left bank of the Maw which we crossed by the white footbridge I crossed the day before. It was a new way even to P. and we therefore entangled ourselves in a forest, but the mountain torrent afforded us great pleasure. In less than two hours we came to the waterfall Rhaiadyr y Mawddach which is a double and very fine one especially on the South side on which we were - Above the fall is a bridge - We crossed it and after looking at the fall on this side we came to the spout of the Cayne, a single lofty and most elegant fall which I left Mr. P. to take a sketch of, which I mean hearafter to buy...' (G. Grigson, Samuel Palmer: The Visionary Years, London, 1947, pp. 133-4).

    A.H. Palmer, the artist's son, described the Welsh watercolour studies as 'elaborate and true to nature' and recalls, of one example, 'His soul was in this work; he rejoiced in the ragged beauty of wild, impetuous currents, no less that in the still transluscent depths; and held that a landscape, however lovely, was never perfect without at least some glint of water' (Samuel Palmer, A Memoir by A.H. Palmer. Also a Catalogue of his Works, Including Those Exhibited by The Fine Art Society 1881, London, 1882, p. 9).

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    Pre-Lot Text