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

A cornfield with windmill and spire seen under a crescent moon

Samuel Palmer, R.W.S. (London 1805-1881 Surrey)
A cornfield with windmill and spire seen under a crescent moon
pen and ink and sepia wash on card
2 5/8 x 4 1/8 in. (6.7 x 10.5 cm.)
By descent from the artist to his son, A.H. Palmer.
The Property of A. H. Palmer; Sotheby's, London, 18 March 1971, lot 51, as 'Cornfield by Moonlight'.
with Leggatt Bros., where purchased by the present owner.
L. Binyon, The Followers of William Blake, London and New York, 1925, pl. 18, as 'The Cornfield'.
G. Grigson, Samuel Palmer: The Visionary Years, London, 1947, p. 167, no. 52, as 'Cornfield, Windmill and Spire, c. 1826-7'.
J. Sellars, Samuel Palmer, London, 1974, p. 37, illustrated.
D. Blayney Brown, Samuel Palmer 1805-1881, exhibition catalogue, London, Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, and Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, 1982, p. 40, under no. 11.
R. Lister, Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Samuel Palmer, Cambridge, 1988, p. 58, no. 70, illustrated.
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Lot Essay

Lister and Grigson date this drawing to circa 1826-7, that is a year or two after Palmer's surviving sketchbook of 1824 (but probably still in use in 1825), but before the series of drawings in dark Indian ink attributed to the years 1826 onwards; this dating would make it later than the earlier, more stylised drawings in brown ink and sepia of 1825, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Brown, loc. cit., relates our drawing to the Landscape with a Windmill beyond a Cornfield in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, again dating it circa 1826 or a little later. The Oxford drawing is similar in size and technique; as Brown writes, 'The washes are handled with great lightness of touch in places but there are also passages of stippling and minute brushstrokes akin to a miniaturist technique'.

The motif of the crescent moon over the distant, rounded hill, is close to a number in the 1824 sketchbook, particularly to those on the earlier pages 1-23 passim, and the group of mixed trees on the left derives from the studies of contrasted trees on later pages, 62-177 passim. The church spire, representing the harmony of the Anglican church with the natural order, is also found throughout the sketchbook; the windmill makes a rarer appearance, as on pages 29, 133 and 145. The general composition of the landscape is close to the group on page 170, though these are freer in execution. (For Palmer's 1826 sketchbook, see M. Butlin and W. Vaughan, Samuel Palmer: The Sketchbook of 1824, London, 2005; for Palmer's early work in general, see G. Grigson, Samuel Palmer: The Visionary Years, London, 1947, R. Lister, op. cit., and W. Vaughan et. al., Samuel Palmer 1805-1881: Vision and Landscape, exhibition catalogue, London, British Museum, and New York, Metropolitan Museum, 2005-6.) The motif of the sickle moon, rounded hill and church occurs in particular on pp. 23, 57 and 96, the windmill is less prevalent.

A related pencil drawing on the back shows much the same round hill with a crescent moon above, with a slighter sketch of a hill and crescent moon behind and to the left.

In 1824 Palmer was introduced to the visionary William Blake (1757-1827) by the artist John Linnell (1792-1882), who was Palmer's father-in-law. This encounter had a profound effect on Palmer's work which took a dramatic change of direction from conventional landscapes and topographical views towards a highly unique style utilising bold, simplified shapes, and strong textural effects. Shortly after meeting Blake, in 1826, Palmer and his father relocated away from London to Shoreham in Kent where he executed many of his most highly regarded works. Blake's religious independence inspired Palmer, leading him away from closely-observed realism towards a more imaginative and spiritual attitude towards his landscapes. The local countryside around Shoreham, which Palmer described as a 'Valley of Vision', reminiscent of an earlier Golden Age, provided a constant source of subject matter to which Palmer added his own distinctive symbolism.

At Palmer's death the present watercolour was in the possession of his son, A. H. Palmer, from whose collection it was purchased for the present collection in 1971.

Judging by the surface, the present drawing has been executed on a two-ply laminated Bristol Board commonly used by the artist in the 1820s. These boards were made up by using two, three or even up to eight sheets of hot-pressed hand-made paper, laminated together and then given a very high glaze by being placed between two very smooth metal plates and passed through a set of glazing rolls. This method of manufacture was initially developed for the production of playing cards but soon became used for visiting cards and later by artists.

We are grateful to Martin Butlin and Peter Bower for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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