British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Samuel Palmer, Sketchbook: Donkey-like Animal and Tree Studies, brown ink, graphite and watercolour
London, AD 1824
Samuel Palmer (1805-81) was one of Britain's greatest artists. These sketches are from a notebook of his which originally contained ninety-two leaves. It records a combination of studies, compositions and writings from one of his most creative periods.
Donkey-like Animal, leaf 17 verso, is a splendid frontal view of an animal that seems to be more the product of imagination than observation. Like many of Palmer's visionary works, this invented creature is drawn precisely and close-up. Tree Studies, leaf 62 verso, was presumably made in the winter of 1824/5. The inscription at lower left, together with the sketch of a line of trees along a path, suggests that the picture was based on direct observation.
Palmer was inspired during his career by his friend and mentor, the poet William Blake. Although Palmer may not have met Blake at this time, he was certainly familiar with his work. This is reflected in the sketchbook, which seems to echo some of Blake's wood engravings, although the designs are very much Palmer's own. The drawings are produced largely in pen, although watercolour is sometimes added. It is lucky that this sketchbook has survived, because many others from the same period were tragically burnt by Palmer's son A.H. Palmer. He did this because he feared that they showed 'unmanly' qualities which would damage his father's reputation.
W. Vaughan, E. Barker and C. Harrison, Samuel Palmer, 1805-1881: visi (London, The British Museum Press, 2005)