Samuel Palmer, Classical River Scene, watercolour and gouache on card

London, about AD 1878

Samuel Palmer (1805-81) was one of Britain's greatest artists. He made this painting late in his career, when his critical reputation was higher than it had ever been. It is a representation of late evening: quiet and meditative, even idyllic. The sun has already set, leaving a purplish glow in the sky; the moon and the evening star can be seen in the clear sky above. There is a sense of the chill of early autumn in the colours. Dark-coloured birds, probably rooks, are circling in the sky above the castle on the river, while a single white bird flies across the river.

In the foreground, on a promontory overlooking the river, there is a shepherd and his family. He pipes while leaning against a tree while his wife - in deep blue costume - tends the baby who gestures in excitement at the sight of the birds. Lower down, on the other bank of the river, travellers are making their way along a narrow path in the direction of the castle. Although the theme and treatment of the painting is similar to some of Palmer's work relating to poetry, there is no evidence in this case that he was illustrating a particular text.

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W. Vaughan, E. Barker and C. Harrison, Samuel Palmer, 1805-1881: visi (London, The British Museum Press, 2005)


Height: 23.100 cm
Width: 35.200 cm

Museum number

PD 1958-7-12-360



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