This hitherto unrecorded watercolour is one of a number of watercolours and engravings of this subject. Depending on how one interprets the evidence, it may be the first known example of Palmer's 'large long', format richly finished and densely coloured, dating from the late 1850s.
It is closely related to, and may well be the basis for, Palmer's etching of 1857 (R. Lister, Samuel Palmer and his Etchings, London, 1969, pp. 102-104, no. 7, illustrated pl. 7; R. Lister, Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Samuel Palmer, Cambridge, 1988, no. E7), itself the first of Palmer's etchings to establish a new, larger format, circa 4 5/8 x 7½ in. as opposed to the circa 3¾ x 3 to 5 in. of his earlier prints. An alternate source for the engraved compositions is the watercolour (whereabouts unknown) The Rising Moon sold in these Rooms 4 May 1928, lot 102, as measuring 7¾ x 16¾ in., Palmer's 'little long' format of which the earliest known example is Eventide, 1841, (Lister, 1988, no. 364). Either watercolour could have been the work or works exhibited at the Old Water-colour Society in 1858, no. 312, and 1859, no. 219, and at the International Exhibition of 1873, no. 1107, lent by M.F. Richardson (see A.H. Palmer, The Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer, Painter and Etcher, London, 1892, pp. 411, 420).
A later version, signed and dated 1871, could also have been the 1873 exhibit, though it was first shown at the Old Water-colour Society in 1871, no. 205, as An Ancient Manor House, beneath 'The Western Downs of lovely Albion', (A.H. Palmer, op.cit., p. 416). This measures 9¼ x 17 in. and is slightly less 'long' in proportion; the sheep are varied, there is only one figure on the right but extra trees, and the distinctive profile of the hills on the left has been softened (Lister, 1988, nos. 657 and 658, illustrated; see also London, Leger Galleries, Samuel Palmer, June - July 1992, no. 30, illustrated in colour.)
The composition occurs yet again as one of the illustrations to Virgil, Eclogue 2, Homeward from Labour'd furrows (Lister, 1988, no. V4), in Melbourne (sepia and charcoal, 4 5/8 x 7 in.; Lister, 1988, no. V4 illustrated). According to A.H. Palmer, this was 'The last finished work of Samuel Palmer' (London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Samuel Palmer and Other Disciples of William Blake, 1926, p. 49, under no. 136, illustrated; see also A.H. Palmer, op.cit., pp. 166-7). To fit Virgil's text, there is now a ploughing team on the right and the trees and profile of the hills have again been altered.
To add to the complications there is a cryptic reference in the Life and Letters quoting from Samuel Palmer: '[On the outside of a paper portfolio.] "Little long, Exhibition, W.C. 1860. Thoughts on RISING MOON, with raving-mad splendour of orange twilight-glow on landscape. I saw that at Shoreham. Above all this, one pinnacle might catch the fire of the last sunlight"' (A.H. Palmer, op.cit., p. 113). If the date 1860 is that of our watercolour ('W.C.') this reference rules out the exhibits of 1858 and 1859 and also the work as being the basis for the 1857 etching; it could however refer to the untraced 'little long' watercolour sold in 1928. There is therefore a strong likelihood that the present 'large long' watercolour was executed about 1857. Otherwise the earliest firmly dated 'large long' is The Comet of 1858 exhibited in 1859 (Palmer, 1892, p. 411).
Unlike Palmer's earlier works this idealised landscape contains elements from a number of different locations experienced by the artist: the church and village nestling in the landscape from the Shoreham Valley, and in particular the manor house of Ightham Mote near Sevenoaks; the distinctive silhouette of the Devonshire tors; and trees seen at the Villa d'Este near Rome in 1838. A mark of Palmer's versatility is his abilty to use the same general composition for what is probably the more or less contemporary The Dip of the Sun, inscribed on the reverse 'painted as Lessons for Louisa Twinning, 1857' (Lister, 1988, no. 546, illustrated; see also Leger Galleries, 1992, no. 21, illustrated in colour). In this work the effect of the landscape is transformed by the absence of the trees in the centre, while the foreground is dominated by great slabs of rock. Yet the sun sets in the same position as the moon rises in The Rising Moon.