John Mcewen com­ments on In a Shore­ham Gar­den

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting Emma Bridgewater -

God made the coun­try, Man made the town. Palmer sought a spir­i­tual cleans­ing by turn­ing ru­ral Shore­ham in Kent into his Eden, a post-in­dus­trial ex­am­ple of ‘get­ting away from it all’; in his asth­matic case, like so many since, from ‘the great na­tional dust­hole’ of Lon­don. How­ever, the vi­sion­ary Shore­ham pic­tures we ad­mire, he con­signed to a folder while he pro­ceeded to make a liv­ing with con­ven­tional land­scapes, un­til en­grav­ing in­spired a late re­nais­sance. It was not un­til 1926 that the sen­sa­tional con­tents of the folder were fully re­vealed in a show at the V&A.

Palmer wrote to the painter Ge­orge Richmond, his fel­low Shore­ham dis­ci­ple or self-styled ‘An­cient’: ‘I be­lieve in my very heart, that all the very finest orig­i­nal pic­tures… have a cer­tain quaint­ness by which they partly af­fect us—not the quaint­ness of bungling—the queer do­ing of a com­mon thought—but a cu­ri­ous­ness in their beauty… by which the imag­i­na­tion catches hold on them.’

This is as ec­static a pic­ture as he ever painted, which makes it easy to un­der­stand why, after the V&A rev­e­la­tion, he was con­sid­ered a pre­cur­sor of van Gogh. It is as­sumed to be an apple tree, but breaks the bounds of re­al­ism to be­come a sheer de­light in blos­som, spring, fe­cun­dity, what you will.

The gouache is so thickly and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally ap­plied that, with age, one clot has bro­ken off; a happy ac­ci­dent, as if it burst free like the blos­soms star­ring the sky. ‘There is no ex­cel­lent beauty with­out some strange­ness in the pro­por­tion’ was a favourite Palmer quo­ta­tion from Fran­cis Ba­con. That too ap­plies.

In a Shore­ham Gar­den, 1830, by Sa­muel Palmer (1805Ð81), 12in by 8½in, V&A, Lon­don

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