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Samuel Palmer (1805–1881): Vision and Landscape

Explore the Romantic era of Samuel Palmer.


Narrator: Samuel Palmer was one of Britain's greatest painters. His rich, romantic landscapes are celebrated in an exhibition marking the two hundredth anniversary of his birth—Samuel Palmer (1805–1881): Vision and Landscape at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, through May 29, 2006.

Palmer's visionary style was inspired by the vivid imagery and powerful imagination of his friend, the older artist and poet William Blake. As a young man, Palmer absorbed the poetry of Milton, Virgil, Wordsworth, Blake, and others, and it fueled his creativity through his six-decade career as an artist.

Here, read by Metropolitan Museum Director Philippe de Montebello, is an excerpt from Milton's L'Allegro:

Philippe de Montebello: "Sometime walking, not unseen, by hedge-row elms, on hillock green, right against the eastern gate, where the great sun begins his state, robed in flames and amber light, the clouds in thousand liveries dight; while the ploughman near at hand whistles o'er the furrowed land, and the milkmaid singeth blithe, and the mower whets his scythe, and every shepherd tells his tale under the hawthorn in the dale."

Narrator: Samuel Palmer's early work of the 1820s and 1830s—while he was living in Shoreham, England—is intimate in mood, rich in texture, and brilliant in hue. Its original style remains fresh to twenty-first-century eyes. Palmer's intense correspondence with friends and mentors—like these excerpts from an 1828 letter to fellow artist and future father-in-law John Linnell—reveal his struggle to reflect in art the beauty and ideal order of nature and poetry:

Philippe de Montebello: "I have begun to take off a pretty view of part of the village and have no doubt but the drawing of choice positions and aspects of external objects is one of the varieties of study requisite to build up an artist, who should be a magnet to all kinds of knowledge: though, at the same time, I can't help seeing that the general characteristics of nature's beauty not only differ from, but are, in some respects, opposed to those of imaginative art; and that, even in those scenes and appearances where she is loveliest, and most universally pleasing.

"Nature, with mild, reposing breadths of lawn and hill, shadowy glades and meadows, is sprinkled and showered with a thousand pretty eyes and buds and spires and blossoms, gemmed with dew, and is clad in living green. Nor must be forgot the mottley clouding, the fine meshes, the aerial tissues that dapple the skies of spring; nor the rolling volumes and piled mountains of light; nor the purple sunset blazoned with gold; nor the translucent amber.

"Universal nature wears a lovely gentleness of mild attraction; but the leafy lightness, the thousand repetitions of little forms, which are part of its own generic perfection—and who would wish them but what they are?—seem hard to be reconciled with the unwinning severity, the awfulness, the ponderous globosity of art. I am desperately resolved to try what can be got by drawing from nature. I think the pictures at our exhibitions seem almost as unlike nature as they are unlike fine art."

Narrator: The exhibition follows Palmer's work through his travels to Wales, Italy, and the southern coast of England, all famous for their natural beauty; to his family years in London, a time of financial struggle and the tragic death of his favorite son; and a creative resurgence in his later years, when his large, vibrant landscapes and shimmering etchings regained the power to transport viewers to exquisite worlds. They still have that power today.

This audio program was created in conjunction with the exhibition Samuel Palmer (1805–1881): Vision and Landscape, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, New York City, through May 29, 2006.

The exhibition is made possible by Gilbert and Ildiko Butler.

Additional support has been provided by William G. and Grace Brantley Anderson, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and The Schiff Foundation.

The exhibition was organized by The British Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

This has been an Antenna Audio production.

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