Going to Evening Church. Samuel Palmer (1805–1881). 1874. Watercolor with scratching out and gum Arabic, 12 x 27 ½ inches (30 x 70 cm). Signed “Samuel Palmer,” lower left. Provenance: J.W. Overbury, bought from the artist 1874; Mrs O.M. Pilcher; J.G. Pilcher; A.A. Schumann Exhibited xhibited: London, Society of Painters in Water Colour, 1874 (91) titled Old England’s Sunday Evening; London, Grosvenor Gallery, Winter Exhibition; Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery, Samuel Palmer … An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Etchings, 1961 (72)

Across a field of ripe corn, worshippers walk to church on a late summer evening. As a staunch Christian, Palmer would have been profoundly inspired by this idea and, in his mind’s eye, he saw a vision made up of remembered landscapes: Shoreham, Devon, Wales and Italy. In his imagination these places merged and this scene took shape. The subject recalls his earlier Shoreham painting, Coming from Evening Church (1830), bought by the Tate Gallery in 1922, shortly before the revival of interest in Palmer’s work led to an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum which so affected the rising generation of artists, such as Graham Sutherland and John Piper.

Palmer wrote of churches “which are, to the Christian’s eye, the most charming points of an English landscape – gems of sentiment for which our woods and green slopes, and hedgerow elms, are the lovely and appropriate setting.” He used watercolour as others used oil paint, and his technical virtuosity resulted in paintings which are luminous, intense and dense. They invite the viewer to follow the artist into its centre.

This work belonged to Joseph Overbury, a stockbroker, who bought it from the Old Watercolour Society exhibition in 1874. Overbury was also the owner of the extraordinary group of six sepia drawings painted in 1825, bought by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford in 1941 from his son Giles. He also loaned two early paintings to the memorial exhibition held at The Fine Art Society in 1881, The Sleeping Shepherd (Lister 179) and Scene at Underriver or The Hop Garden (Lister 170), then titled A Kentish Hop-Garden.

The last period of Palmer’s career was marked by growing critical appreciation for the poetry of his idyllic landscapes. This followed the commission from Leonard Rowe Valpy, John Ruskin’s lawyer, to paint a series of watercolours based on Milton’s early poems, “L’Allegro” and “Il Peneroso.” Palmer had been planning this landscape cycle for some time, and needed only the impetus of a patron to start. A succession of watercolours and etchings resulted.

However it was not until the twentieth century that he came to be fully recognised as one of the great and most original English landscape artists. In the years following the deaths of Constable and Turner, it was Palmer, not his father-in-law John Linnell, who changed British art. Although Linnell was prolific and perhaps the most commercially successful British artist of the nineteenth century , then considered with Turner to be the greatest of their age, it is Palmer whose visions and innovations have stood the test of time. As a visionary artist, he made landscapes created from the close observation and experience of nature distilled in his memory and imagination. The tradition of Pastoral art follows his example.

Kenneth Clark saw Palmer as the English Van Gogh. There are several similarities between these two eccentric recluses, both profoundly religious, seeking to uncover a spiritual presence in nature. Palmer wrote that ‘the painter’s and the poet’s struggles are solitary and patient, silent and sublime.’

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Bibliography

The Fine Art Society 2014. Exhibition Catalogue. Edinburgh: Bourne Fine Art; London: The Fine Art Society, 2014. No. 30.

Lister, Raymond. Catalogue Raisonné of the works of Samuel Palmer. Cambridge 1988. P.208 no.669.


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Last modified 29 May 2014