The Weary Ploughman. Samuel Palmer, RWS 1805-81. 1858. Etching, signed in pencil Samuel Palmer, lower right, printed in black ink on chine appliqué, 5 3/4 x 8 3.4 inches (14.5 x 22.1 cm); sheet 8 1/2 x 11 1/4 inches (21.5 x 28.4 cm). The a proof probably in the sixth state (of eight). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by Gordon Cooke

Although it was not published until 1865, The Weary Ploughman was etched and essentially finished in the early summer of 1858. We recently had a proof in the first state inscribed ‘First proving July 3d 1858’ and there are impressions printed by Gad, his successor George Martin Jr and by Auguste Delâtre, brought over from Paris by Whistler.

As Elizabeth Barker relates, before he had his own press, Palmer would cover his proofs with notes, diagrams, instructions and sketches, as well as visiting the printer in person. One harried printer apparently declared that he ‘would sooner see the Devil himself than Palmer with a plate to prove’ (Vaughan, et al., 51).

The Weary Ploughman and The Early Ploughman are companion pieces and the compositions mirror one another. In the first the ploughman returns home and the full moon marks the direction of his journey. He walks past a large chestnut tree as his oxen lead him down to a village buried in a valley, smoke rising from chimneys. An impression was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1865 (876) together with one of The Rising Moon (872), then called ‘Evening pastures’; The Weary Ploughman then had a title derived from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in Country Churchyard, ‘The ploughman homeward plods his weary way’.

It was Frederick Griggs who proposed the title now used, and it neatly acknowledges the association with Gray and the relationship with The Early Ploughman. In this, the ploughman and his team come from the opposite side of the composition, cutting the first furrow as the first sunbeams light the landscape. A screen of cypress trees fills the right hand side of the composition and a woman carrying water walks across the 'eld, and the inspiration for the subject seems to have been Italian rather than English.

The Fine Art Society, London, has most generously given its permission to use information, images, and text from its catalogues in the Victorian Web. This generosity has led to the creation of hundreds and hundreds of the site's most valuable documents on painting, drawing, sculpture, furniture, textiles, ceramics, glass, metalwork, and the people who created them. The copyright on text and images from their catalogues remains, of course, with the Fine Art Society.


Cooke, Gordon. Samuel Palmer, His Friends, and Followers.Exhibition Catalogue. London: The Fine Art Society, 2012. No. 23.

Lister, Raymond. Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Samuel Palmer. Cambridge, 1988. pp.243–244 E8 vi/>VIII.

Vaughan, William, Elizabeth E. Barker, Colin Harrison Samuel Palmer 1805–1881: Vision and Landscape. London, 2005.

Last modified 25 May 2014