May 22, 2007

Palmer’s Sketchbook of 1824

Shoreham landscape by Samuel Palmer, 1824

Note, that when you go to Dulwich it is not enough on coming home to make recollections in which shall be united the scattered parts about those sweet fields into a sentimental Dulwich looking whole No But considering Dulwich as the gate into the world of vision one must try behind the hills to bring up a mystic glimmer like that which lights our dreams. And those same hills, (hard task) should give us promise that the country behind them is Paradise.[1]

English painter Samuel Palmer (1805-1881) was nineteen years old when he filled the pages of this sketchbook. These drawings belong to what is generally regarded as the most important period in Palmer’s career; a time that is marked by a revolt against the modern world and the art it produced. Writings and drawings from this period are relatively rare for the simple reason that Herbert, the artist’s son, misguidedly destroyed a great deal of them. ‘Knowing that no one would be able to make head or tail of what I burnt […] I wished to save it from a more humiliating fate […T]he fire lasted for days’[2].

Mule, a drawing by Samuel Palmer, 1824.


Mule in landscape, a drawing by Samuel Palmer, 1824.

A key influence on the young Palmer was English landscape painter John Linnell. Linnell exposed Palmer to the Northern European primitives and instilled in him a love of careful observation of nature, which shines through these pages.

[…] it pleased God to send Mr. Linnell as a good angel from Heaven to pluck me from the pit of modern art; and after struggling to get out for the space of a year and a half, I have just enough cleared my eyes from the slime of the pit to see what a miserable state I am now in.[3]

Through Linnell, Palmer met William Blake, whom he greatly admired and whose influence is evident in the sketchbook. Rather than the terrifying visionary, it is the Blake of the Pastorals of Virgil that left his mark on Palmer’s work.

Old Testament scene by Samuel Palmer, 1824.


‘He Made Great Lights’ by Samuel Palmer, 1824

The sketchbook contains detailed studies from nature, sketches for compositions and single figures, annotations on art, extracts from Milton and Fuseli, various notes and draft verses. All the drawings are executed in pen and ink, sometimes over pencil, occasionally highlighted in watercolour and even gold ink.

Study of a tree by Samuel Palmer, 1824.


Study of trees by Samuel Palmer, 1824.

Palmer’s Sketchbook of 1824 was initially published by the William Blake Trust in 1962. A new edition in collaboration with Thames and Hudson on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the artist’s birth is the source of all the illustrations in this post. These images are all copyright © The William Blake Trust, and have been reproduced without permission, only for as long as no-one objects to their presence on this site.

Notes for a polyptych and studies of foliage by Samuel Palmer, 1824.
  1. Palmer, Samuel, Sketchbook of 1824, London 2005, p.81 ^
  2. Grigson, Geoffrey, Samuel Palmer, the Visionary Years, London 1947 ^
  3. Palmer, A.H., The Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer, London 1892 ^
Posted by michelangelo at May 22, 2007 08:02 AM


Posted by: David Weman on May 23, 2007 02:17 PM

'The fire lasted for days' - heart-breaking.

Posted by: Emma on May 24, 2007 08:49 PM

superb-- i'm always on the lookout for beautiful sketch work. these (particularly of that donkey!) are inspiring.

Posted by: phoebe (silk felt soil) on August 16, 2007 06:44 PM

Thanks for posting this information on the Samuel Palmer sketchbook of 1824. It is a beautiful facsimile sketchbook. For others sketchbooks available online check my website.

Posted by: Scattergood-Moore on August 17, 2007 11:10 AM

Yes Phoebe, that mule (?) study is really bizarre! Scattergood-Moore: thank you for the link, that's an impressive collection; I will need some time to explore it. I love the Sargent charcoals.

Posted by: Michelangelo on August 20, 2007 03:59 AM
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