'For me, it’s like a prayer. Or a meditation.'
In a Shoreham Garden, 1830, by Samuel Palmer (1805–81), 12in by 8½in, V&A, London
Emma Bridgewater says:
For me, it’s like a prayer. Or a meditation. I found that, after looking at it—and other Shoreham paintings—I had a much deeper emotional reaction to the landscape (admittedly, it was a bewitching evening last night—still, warm and pink and gold). Palmer’s intensity of devotion is catching. My mum loved swimming in lakes and rivers, as if to immerse herself deeper in the landscape, and this is the effect he has on me. I feel fully infused with the beauty of the natural world when I look at this apple tree
Emma Bridgewater is the founder of the Stoke on Trent pottery factory that bears her name and the President of the CPRE
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.