The Morning of Life. Samuel Palmer, RWS 1805-81. 1860-61. Etching, a proof printed on India paper, trimmed to the subject, mounted on a backing sheet, 5⅜ x 8 ¼ inches (13.1 x 19.8 cm). Fourth state (of seven). Inscribed in pencil A “Leafy Dell” (crossed out), “On White India,” lower left margin, and “The Morning of Life”, lower right margin. Provenance: Sir William Richard Drake [Lugt 2743], stamp verso; Private Collection by descent; bought from The Fine Art Society in the nineteenth century. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by Gordon Cooke

The etching which followed The Weary Ploughman and The Early Ploughman went in a new direction. It first depicted an episode from Virgil’s Aeneid, Hercules pursuing the monster Cacus, although no impressions showing them appear to have survived. The protagonists were replaced by pastoral elements: a girl with a basket of apples and sheep being washed. The sun bursts through a tangle of twisted tree trunks and leafy shrubs and the scene has become a true pastoral, celebrating the joy of life.

Like The Early Ploughman, The Morning of Life was etched in Palmer’s home in Kensington, which he left after the death of his son in 1861, finding it impossible to remain there. The sentiment of this etching must have seemed as from a distant past. Some early impressions of The Morning of Life were printed by Francis Seymour Haden and Auguste Delâtre, before the Frederick Goulding printed the edition of 540 published in Etchings for the Art Union of London by the Etching Club, 1872. In a lecture to the Print Collectors’ Club in 1946 chaired by Martin Hardie, Keeper of Prints & Drawings at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Paul Drury spoke of his love of Palmer’s etchings and used The Morning of Life as an example:

It is difficult to realise that The Morning of Life – so overflowing with wonder, vitality and spontaneous growth – was completed when the artist was in his sixty-ninth year. How the eye is tossed from one alive form to another, from blinding light to luminous depth how one gasps-in the clean joyous air. One notices later the cunning equilibrium of design, the maturity of mind and experience. At nearly seventy he realised the sun and springing growths with the intensity of youth – he seems to reach back to the great Shoreham period when, with Calvert and under Blake’s pervading influence, all Nature was a revelation, a Miracle

Related Material


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

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.

Lister, Raymond. Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Samuel Palmer. Cambridge, 1988. pp. 245–46 E10.

Last modified 25 May 2014