Samuel Palmer Biography

Samuel Palmer




Britsh painter, printmaker, and writer Samuel Palmer was born in Newington, London. His father, a bookseller and Baptist minister, left him in the care of a nurse, Mary Ward, and young Palmer began to teach himself how to paint at age twelve, capturing local landscapes and churches. He had his first exhibition at the Royal Academy at age 14. He never had a formal education, aside from a brief time spent at the Merchant Taylor's School.

In 1924 he was introduced to William Blake by the landscape painter John Linnell. Greatly influenced by the poet and artist, Linnell's work took on some of the mystical air of Blake's style, and he soon became associated with the group "The Ancients," which included artists George Richmond and Edward Calvert, among others. He moved into a run down cottege near Shoreham and dubbed it "Rat Alley", and from there he eventually produced a series of landscapes, known as the Shoreham paintings, that would later be considered his strongest work, though his son would destroy much of it to save his father a presumed posthumous humiliation. Indeed, at the time they were dismissed by much of the English art world. Meanwhile his health was failing, and with the Swing Riots of 1830 at the hands of desperate agricultural workers who'd been replaced by machines, Palmer's vision of the magic, peaceful English countryside and life slowly began to tarnish.


On the advice of his new father-in-law and former mentor John Linnell, Palmer left for London in 1835, abandoning the Blake-inspired style he had created for himself. He turned to classical watercolors and etchings, and it wasn't long before he had gained enough popularity in England to warrant a two year sojourn to Italy. On the premise of a honeymoon with his new wife Hannah Linnell, Palmer hoped to further his artistic aptitude in the home of the Italian masters. Yet his return to London was not the success he had hoped for. For two decades he relied on his tutoring wages, as mounting financial woes left little time for Palmer to focus on his own work. But he kept working, slowly, on his own paintings and had now begun exploring the etching medium. He beocame a member of the Water Colour Society in 1854, submitting to its show each year.


By 1862 he and his family had left London and Palmer entered a new decade of artistic pursuit. He began working on large watercolor illustrations for Milton's poems L'Allegro, which were more in keeping with his Shoremah style. He also produced his first full set of illustrative etchings for Virgil. In 1861 Palmer's eldest son Thomas died, and Pamer never fully recovered from the loss. Though a small measure of success allowed the aging artist to retire to Furze Hill House in Redhill, he was still unable to afford the small expense of a daily paper. He died in 1881 and was buried in Reigate churchyard.


Though he was largely forgotten in the decades following his death, renewed interest in his Shoreham work began with a curated show at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1926 titled "Drawings, Etchings, and Woodcuts Made by Samuel Palmer and Other Disciples of William Blake". Despite the tragic demolition by Palmer's son of most of his early works, by the 1950s that which survived was studied and soon heralded by a growing audience. Included in a list of artists greatly influenced by Palmer is Eric Ravilious, Laurence Whistler, Joseph Webb, among others.


In 2005 the British Museum collaborated with the Metrpolitan Museum of Art to stage the the first major retrospective of his work.