John Mcewen comments on In a Shoreham Garden
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