- Museum number
Cornfield by Moonlight, with the Evening Star; bundles of corn and a farmer with staff in the foreground. c.1830
Watercolour and bodycolour, with pen and ink; varnished
Verso: Mountain landscape; a figure on horseback with another figure in front on a narrow track at the side of a steep mountain
Pen and brown ink
- Production date
- 1830 (circa)
Height: 197 millimetres
Width: 298 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The following is the entry on this drawing in W. Vaughan, E.E. Barker, and C. Harrison, 'Samuel Palmer, Vision and Landscape' (London, BM, 2005), cat. no. 49, pp. 124-5:
One of the largest and finest 'moonlights' from Palmer's early Shoreham period, this shows a man in a smock, broad hat and staff travelling with his dog through a cornfield that has already been cut and stacked in sheaves. The sky has a large waxing sickle moon and evening star. The ethereal nature of the work is heightened by the glimmering light, which is stronger than any that could have been cast by a sickle moon and has more of the character of full-moon light. There is no specific location indicated in this work, but the rounded hills are highly reminiscent of the Shoreham area where this work was doubtless painted.
While the design of the picture is carefully composed, the handling is extremely free, Palmer using vigorous strokes to depict the sheaves of corn. Its rich tonalities show how much Palmer developed as a colourist around 1830. Indeed, much of the allure of the work comes from the vivid way in which broadly applied areas of light interact with emphatic draughtsmanship. It was this kind of vivid representation of light and nature that so attracted Palmer to the Neo-Romantics in Britain in the mid-twentieth century. This particular work was owned by Sir Kenneth Clark, a great admirer of Palmer and supporter of Neo-romantics such as Graham Sutherland in his early years.
Lister suggests that this picture reflects the mood of the opening passage of Virgil's 'Georgics', quoting from the 1790 translation by Joseph Davidson;
"What makes the fields of corn joyous; under what sign, Maecenas, it is proper to turn the Earth and join the Vines to Elms…Ye brightest Luminaries of the World, that lead the Year sliding along the sky…your bounteous gifts I sing."
Virgil was one of Palmer's favourite poets. In later life he made a complete translation of the 'Eclogues' (see cat.163), and his ink painting of 1825 'A Rustic Scene' had a passage from the Georgics attached to it (see cat.10). In this case, however, the inspiration appears to be general rather than specific. There is, perhaps too, a more religiously-orientated contemplative awe in the picture than is suggested by Virgil's celebratory panegyric. Commentators in recent decades have been struck by the affinity of mood between works such as this and contemporaneous religiously-inspired scenes of figures contemplating the moon by the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. (Rosenblum, p.59) Palmer never came closer to Friedrich than in this picture - though in technique their methods were utterly different.
Reproduced and discussed in R. Hoozee, ed., 'British Vision: Observation and Imagination in British Art, 1750-1950', exh. cat., Gent, Museum Voor Schone Kunsten, 2007-2008, cat. 255.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1926 Oct-Dec, London, V&A, 'Samuel Palmer', no.64
1934 London, Royal Academy, 'British Art', no.769A
1934 Manchester Art Gallery, 'British Art', no.33
1949 New York, Durlacher, 'Palmer', no.13
1959 Jul-Sep, London (Council of Europe), 'The Romantic Movement', no.797
1972 Jan-Apr, Paris, Petit Palais, La peinture romantique anglaise..no.207
1987 Feb 5 - May 25, BM, 'An A-Z of P&D'
1987-1988 Oct-Jan, New York Public Library, William Wordsworth and the Age of English Romanticism, no.286
1990 Apr-Aug, BM, Treasures of P&D (no cat.)
1991 Jan-Mar, Ohio, Cleveland MA, BM English Watercolours, no. 81
1991 Mar-Jun, N Carolina MA, BM English Watercolours, no. 81
1992 Jun-Nov, Essen, Villa Hugel, 'London 1800-38', no. 255
2005-2006 Oct-Jan, BM, 'Samuel Palmer (1805-1881): Vision and Landscape'
2006 Mar-May, New York, Met Mus of Art, 'Samuel Palmer (1805-1881): Vision and Landscape'
2007-2008 Oct-Jan, Gent, Museum Voor Schone Kunsten, 'British Vision:...', no. 255
2011 Apr-Jun, Walsall, New Art Gallery, Towards the Light ...
2014 May-Aug, London, Tate Britain, Kenneth Clark
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- By descent to Alfred Herbert Palmer (1853-1932); Christie's London, 4 March, 1929 (lot 43), bought by Savile Gallery; Lord Clark of Saltwood (1903-1983), London, before 1947 (it can be seen in the photograph by Felix Man of KC's Hampstead house, 'Art et Style', April 1947); Stanley Moss & Co., N.Y., from whom purchased by the Museum, 1985. Purchased after suspension of an export licence after a nationwide appeal, with grants from various bodies and private individuals.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number