Samuel Palmer
Samuel Palmer was a British landscape
Landscape art
Landscape art is a term that covers the depiction of natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, and especially art where the main subject is a wide view, with its elements arranged into a coherent composition. In other works landscape backgrounds for figures can still...

 painter, etcher and printmaker. He was also a prolific writer. Palmer was a key figure in Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 in Britain and produced visionary pastoral paintings.

Early life

Palmer, who was born in Newington
Newington, London
Newington is a district of London, England, and part of the London Borough of Southwark. It was an ancient parish and the site of the early administration of the county of Surrey...

, London in Surrey Square off the Old Kent Road
Old Kent Road
The Old Kent Road is a road in South East London, England and forms part of Watling Street, the Roman road which ran from Dover to Holyhead. The street is famous as the equal cheapest property on the London Monopoly board and as the only one in South London....

, was the son of a bookseller and sometime Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 minister, and was raised by a pious nurse. Palmer painted churches from around age twelve, and first exhibited Turner-inspired works at the Royal Academy
Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and...

 at the age of fourteen. He had little formal training, and did not have a formal schooling, although he was educated briefly at Merchant Taylors' School
Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood
Merchant Taylors' School is a British independent day school for boys, originally located in the City of London. Since 1933 it has been located at Sandy Lodge in the Three Rivers district of Hertfordshire ....



Through John Linnell, he met William Blake
William Blake
William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age...

 in 1824. Blake's influence can be seen in the works he produced over the next ten years or so, which are generally reckoned to be his greatest. These works were of landscapes around Shoreham
Shoreham, Kent
Shoreham is a village and civil parish in the valley of the River Darent six miles north of Sevenoaks in Kent: it is in the District of Sevenoaks. The parish includes the settlements of Badgers Mount and Well Hill....

, near Sevenoaks in the west of the county of Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

. He purchased a run-down cottage, nicknamed "Rat Abbey", and it was there that he lived from 1826 to 1835, depicting the area as a demi-paradise, mysterious and visionary, and often shown in sepia shades under moon and star light. There Palmer also associated with the group of Blake-influenced artists known as The Ancients
Ancients (art group)
The Ancients , were a group of English artists who were brought together by their attraction to archaism in art and admiration for the work of William Blake. The core members of the Ancients were Samuel Palmer, George Richmond, Edward Calvert...

 (including George Richmond
George Richmond
For the 21st century educator see George H. RichmondGeorge Richmond was an English painter.George Richmond was the father of the painter William Blake Richmond as well as the grandfather of the naval historian, Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond.A keen follower of cricket, Richmond was noted in one...

 and Edward Calvert). They were among the few who ever saw the Shoreham paintings since, as a result of attacks by critics in 1825, he only ever opened those early portfolios to selected friends.

Palmer's somewhat disreputable father – Samuel Palmer senior – moved to the area, his brother Nathaniel having offered him an allowance that would "make him a gentlemen" and so restore the good name of the family. Samuel Palmer senior rented half of the Queen Anne
Queen Anne Style architecture
The Queen Anne Style in Britain means either the English Baroque architectural style roughly of the reign of Queen Anne , or a revived form that was popular in the last quarter of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century...

-era 'Waterhouse' which still stands by the River Darent
River Darent
The River Darent or River Darenth is a Kentish tributary of the River Thames in England. Its name is believed to be from a Celtic word meaning 'river where oak-trees grow'...

 at Shoreham and is now given the slightly grander-sounding name of 'Water House'. Palmer's nurse, Mary Ward, and his other son William joined him there. The Waterhouse was used to accommodate overflow guests from "Rat Abbey". In 1828 Samuel Palmer left "Rat Abbey" to join his father at Water House. He lived there for the rest of his time in Shoreham. Later in the Shoreham period he fell in love with the fourteen year old Hannah Linnell, whom he would later marry.


After returning to London in 1835, and using a small legacy to purchase a house there in Marylebone
Marylebone is an affluent inner-city area of central London, located within the City of Westminster. It is sometimes written as St. Marylebone or Mary-le-bone....

, Palmer produced less mystical and more conventional work. Part of his reason in returning to London was to better sell his work and earn money from private teaching. He had better health on his return to London, and he was recently married to Hannah, daughter of John Linnell. He had known Hannah since she was a child, and when they married she was nineteen, he thirty-two. He sketched in Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

shire and Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 at around this time. His peaceful vision of rural England had been disillusioned by the violent rural discontent
Swing Riots
The Swing Riots were a widespread uprising by agricultural workers; it began with the destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830, and by early December had spread throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia.As well as the attacks on...

 of the early 1830s, his small financial legacy was running out, and so he decided that he needed to produce work which was more in line with public taste if he was to earn an income for himself and his wife. In this he was also following the advice of his father-in-law. Linnell, who had earlier shown a remarkable understanding of the uniqueness of Blake
William Blake
William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age...

's genius, was not as generous with his son-in-law, towards whom his attitude was authoritarian and often harsh.

Palmer began to turn more to watercolour, then gaining great popularity in England. To further a commercial career, in 1837 the couple embarked on a two-year honeymoon
-History:One early reference to a honeymoon is in Deuteronomy 24:5 “When a man is newly wed, he need not go out on a military expedition, nor shall any public duty be imposed on him...

 to Italy, made possible by money from Hannah's parents. In Italy Palmer's palette became brighter, sometimes to the point of garishness, but he made many fine sketches and studies that would later be useful in producing new paintings. Yet, on his return to London, Palmer sought patrons with only limited success. For more than two decades he was obliged to work as a private drawing master, until he moved away from London in 1862. To add to his financial worries, he had returned to London to find that his dissolute brother William had pawned all of his early paintings, and Samuel was obliged to pay a large sum to redeem them. By all accounts Samuel was an excellent teacher, but the work with uninspired students inevitably reduced the time he could devote to his own art.

Later years

From the early 1860s he gained some measure of critical success for his later landscapes, which once again had a touch of the early Shoreham work about them – most notable of these is the etching of The Lonely Tower (1879). He had become a full member of the Water Colour Society in 1854, and its annual show gave him a yearly goal to work towards.
His best late works include a series of large watercolours illustrating Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

's poems L'Allegro
L'Allegro is a pastoral poem by John Milton published in 1645. L'Allegro is invariably paired with the contrasting pastoral poem, Il Penseroso , which depicts a similar day spent in contemplation and thought.-Background:It is uncertain when L'Allegro and Il Penseroso were composed because they do...

and Il Penseroso
Il Penseroso
Il Penseroso is a vision of poetic melancholy by John Milton. Presented in the 1645 folio of verses, The Poems of Mr. John Milton, both English and Latin, Il Penseroso was presented as a companion piece to L'Allegro, a vision of poetic Mirth...

and his etchings, a medium in which he worked from 1850 onwards, including a set illustrating Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...


Palmer's later years were darkened by the death in 1861, at the age of 19, of his beloved elder son Thomas More Palmer – a devastating blow from which the father never fully recovered. He lived in various places later in his life, including a small cottage and then an unaffordable villa both at Kensington
Kensington is a district of west and central London, England within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. An affluent and densely-populated area, its commercial heart is Kensington High Street, and it contains the well-known museum district of South Kensington.To the north, Kensington is...

, then a cottage at Reigate
Reigate is a historic market town in Surrey, England, at the foot of the North Downs, and in the London commuter belt. It is one of the main constituents of the Borough of Reigate and Banstead...

. But it was only when a small measure of financial security came his way at last, that was he able to move to Furze Hill House in Redhill, Surrey, from 1862. Nevertheless he could not even afford to have a daily newspaper delivered to Redhill, suggesting that his financial circumstances there were still tight.

Samuel Palmer died in Redhill
Redhill, Surrey
Redhill is a town in the borough of Reigate and Banstead, Surrey, England and is part of the London commuter belt. Redhill and the adjacent town of Reigate form a single urban area.-History:...

, Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

, and is buried with his wife in Reigate churchyard.


Samuel Palmer was largely forgotten after his death. In 1909, large amounts of his Shoreham work were destroyed by his surviving son Alfred Herbert Palmer, who burnt "a great quantity of father's handiwork ... Knowing that no one would be able to make head or tail of what I burnt; I wished to save it from a more humiliating fate". The destruction included "sketchbooks, notebooks, and original works, and lasted for days". It wasn't until 1926 that Palmer's rediscovery began through a show curated by Martin Hardie at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Drawings, Etchings and Woodcuts made by Samuel Palmer and other Disciples of William Blake. But it took until the early 1950s for his reputation to really start to recover, stimulated by Geoffrey Grigson
Geoffrey Grigson
Geoffrey Edward Harvey Grigson was a British writer. He was born in Pelynt, a village near Looe in Cornwall.-Life:...

's 280-page book Samuel Palmer (1947) and later by an exhibition of the Shoreham work in 1957 and by Grigson's 1960 selection of Palmer's writing. His reputation now rests mainly on his Shoreham work, but some of his later work has recently received more appreciation.

The Shoreham work has had a powerful influence on many English artists since being rediscovered. Palmer was a notable influence on F.L. Griggs, Robin Tanner
Robin Tanner
Robin Tanner was an English artist, etcher and printmaker. He followed in the visionary tradition of Samuel Palmer and English neo-romanticism. He lived in London, at Kington Langley, in Wiltshire, and Bath.-Biography:...

, Graham Sutherland
Graham Sutherland
Graham Vivien Sutherland OM was an English artist.-Early life:He was born in Streatham, attending Homefield Preparatory School, Sutton. He was then educated at Epsom College, Surrey before going up to Goldsmiths, University of London...

, Paul Drury
Paul Drury
Paul Drury was an artist and printmaker born Albert Paul Dalou Drury in Brockley, London, the son of sculptor Alfred Drury.-Early life:...

, Eric Ravilious
Eric Ravilious
Eric William Ravilious was an English painter, designer, book illustrator and wood engraver.-Career:Ravilious studied at Eastbourne School of Art, and at the Royal College of Art, where he studied under Paul Nash and became close friends with Edward Bawden.He began his working life as a muralist,...

, the glass engraving of Laurence Whistler
Laurence Whistler
Sir Alan Charles Laurence Whistler, CBE was a British poet and artist who devoted himself to glass engraving, on goblets and bowls blown to his own designs, and on large-scale panels and windows in churches and private houses...

, and Clifford Harper
Clifford Harper
Clifford Harper is an illustrator and militant anarchist. He was born in Chiswick, West London on the 13th of July 1949. His father was a postman and his mother a cook. Expelled from school at 13 and placed on 2 years probation at 14, he then worked in a series of "menial jobs" before 'turning on,...

. He also inspired a resurgence in twentieth-century landscape printmaking, which began amongst students at Goldsmiths' College in the 1920s. (See: Jolyon Drury, 2006)

In 2005 the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 collaborated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

 to stage the first truly major retrospective of his work, timed to coincide with the bicentenary of Palmer's birth. The show ran from October 2005 – January 2006, and at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March - May 2006.


  • An address to the Electors of West Kent: Pamphlet 1832
  • The 1861 Lives Balance Sheet: Epitaph on death of his son Thomas More Palmer
  • On going to Shoreham, Kent to design from Ruth: A prayer, 1826
  • With pipe and rural chaunt along: A poem, Samuel Palmer's Sketchbook 1824, British Museum Facsimile Published by William Blake Trust in 1862


  • W. Vaughan, E.E. Barker, C. Harrison, Samuel Palmer 1805-1881 Vision and Landscape [exhibition catalogue, British Museum, London, & Metropolitan Museum, New York], (2005)
  • Lister, Raymond
    Raymond Lister
    Raymond Lister was an English blacksmith/ironworker, author, artist and the leading authority on Samuel Palmer. He was born and spent most of his life in Cambridge...

     (1974). Samuel Palmer, A Biography Faber and Faber, London ISBN 0 571 09732 4
  • Lister, Raymond ed The Letters of Samuel Palmer OUP, Oxford 1974 ISBN 978-0198173090
  • Palmer, A.H. (1892) The life and Letters of Samuel Palmer Painter and Etcher (1892; facsimile reprint 1972).
  • Lister, Raymond (1988). Catalogue Raisonné
    Catalogue raisonné
    The typical catalogue raisonné is a monograph giving a comprehensive catalogue of artworks by an artist.The essential elements of a catalogue raisonné are that it purports to be an exhaustive list of works for a defined subject matter describing the works in a way so that they may be reliably...

     of the Works of Samuel Palmer
    . Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...

    , 1988.
  • Lister, Raymond (1986). The Paintings of Samuel Palmer. Cambridge University Press, 1986.
  • Herring, Sarah (1988). "Samuel Palmer's Shoreham drawings in Indian ink: a matter of light and shade". Apollo vol. 148, no. 441 (November 1998), pp. 37–42.
  • Drury, Jolyon (2006). Revelation to Revolution: The Legacy of Samuel Palmer - The Revival and Evolution of Pastoral Printmaking by Paul Drury and the Goldsmiths School in the 20th Century.
  • Campbell-Johnston, Rachel, Mysterious Wisdom: The Life and Work of Samuel Palmer (London, Bloomsbury, 2011).

External links

  • Page at the Tate Gallery
    Tate Gallery
    The Tate is an institution that houses the United Kingdom's national collection of British Art, and International Modern and Contemporary Art...

     with several images of Palmer's work
  • British Museum page about Palmer exhibition
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