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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.