Samuel Palmer, Eclogue III: 'Tis Gentle Phillis', black chalk and brown ink, heightened with white gouache

London, about AD 1876

Samuel Palmer (1805-81) was one of Britain's greatest artists. He devoted decades of passionate labour in the last years of his life to preparing an English translation of Virgil's Eclogues, accompanied by his own illustrations. He first developed the idea when discussing classical literature with his son Thomas More, who was a promising scholar before his untimely death in 1861, an event which Palmer later described as 'the catastrophe of my life'.

The volume was unfinished when Palmer himself died, so it was completed by his other son A.H. Palmer and published by Seeley and Company in 1883 as An English Version of the Eclogues of Virgil by Samuel Palmer, with Illustrations by the Author.

This drawing illustrates the following lines from Eclogue III in Palmer's translation:
'Tis gentle Phillis I love best of all,
For when I left some tears began to fall;
'Adieu!' she cried, while her loose tresses fell
About me, 'Charming boy, a long farewell!'

It is one of four designs for the same subject, possibly the earliest (this version was not in fact the one used in the published volume). Unlike the other versions, this focuses less on the separating couple (seen in the right foreground) than on the surrounding landscape. However, the ruin and the clouds seem to suggest the turmoil that the lovers might be feeling. The design combines pen lines with the use of graphite to deepen tones and white to heighten lighter parts.

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More information


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


Height: 10.200 cm
Width: 15.200 cm

Museum number

PD 1938-11-12-15



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