Samuel Palmer, A Cornfield by Moonlight with the Evening Star, a watercolour with bodycolour and pen and ink

England, around AD 1830

Palmer (1805-1881) began his career as an artist at an early age. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of fourteen (one of his sketchbooks from this time is in the British Museum's collection). In 1824 he met William Blake whose influence helped to confirm his visionary approach to art. Blake's Illustrations to Thornton's Virgil (1821) encouraged him to pursue his vision of pastoral innocence. Palmer retreated into rural isolation in the village of Shoreham, Kent, his own 'Valley of Vision'. Here he produced his most distinctive work, and gathered around him a group artists (including Edward Calvert and George Richmond) known as the Ancients. He married in 1837, and on his two-year honeymoon in Italy his style turned to intensely coloured watercolours, with less of an obvious spiritual connection to his subjects. From 1850 he produced highly accomplished etchings. His later years were unhappy: two of his children died, and he was forced to support himself through teaching in London. As his surviving son wrote: 'more and more, he nestled in the past'.

This striking watercolour (with bodycolour) is one of his finest works from the Shoreham period. The paint is mixed with various varnishes and pastes to alter its thickness and sheen. Palmer's technique was as unconventional as his vision.

Once in the collection of Lord Clark, the notable art historian and author of Civilization, it was purchased by the British Museum after a public appeal.

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More information


L. Stainton, Nature into art: English lands (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

R. Lister, Catalogue raisonné of the work (Cambridge, 1988)


Height: 197.000 mm
Width: 258.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1985-5-4-1


Purchased with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Henry Moore Foundation, British Museum Publications, the The British Museum Friends and Sir Duncan Oppenheim


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