No Known Copyright Restrictions | Licence: Public Domain
No Known Copyright Restrictions | Licence: Public Domain

The good farmer

Comments? Do please tell us: [email protected]

From the Collection


Samuel Palmer's landscapes are rich with allusions to English and Latin literature, and to the Bible. The painter was brought up in a devout Christian household, and was a precocious talent who, at the age of fourteen, began to exhibit at the Royal Academy, London. In 1824 he met the visionary poet and painter William Blake and became his most devoted follower. Blake’s woodcut illustrations to an 1821 edition of The pastorals of Virgil were described by Palmer as ‘visions of little dells, and nooks, and corners of Paradise: models of the exquisitest pitch of intense poetry’1 - qualities that are apparent in his own work. After moving to the village of Shoreham, Kent, in 1827 he became the central figure in a group of ‘nature mystics’, devotees of Blake, Milton and Virgil, who called themselves 'The Ancient's and produced pastoral and mystical landscapes charged with Christian symbolism.

The good farmer is one such landscape, dating from relatively late in Palmer's career. The belfry, cattle and setting sun evoke Thomas Gray’s celebrated Elegy written in a country church-yard (1751), the opening line of which is: ‘The curfew tolls the knell of parting day…’. When it was exhibited at the Royal Watercolour Society, London, in 1865, however, the painting was accompanied by a quotation in the catalogue, ‘Careless their merits or their faults to scan/His pity gave ere charity began', from ‘The deserted village’, 1770, Oliver Goldsmith’s lament on the depopulation of rural England. Palmer recasts Goldsmith’s good-hearted country parson as a farmer who, dressed in a hat and smock and accompanied by his faithful dog, gives alms to the poor. The signpost points to the fictitious, quintessentially English-sounding village of ‘Oakminster’. A recurring type in Palmer’s works, the farmer is referenced to Virgil’s Eclogues, interpreted by the artist and many of his contemporaries as Christian allegories in which the Good Shepherd appears as Christ and the good farmer represents Everyman.

Although Palmer is still most highly valued for his early, more 'gothic' works before the mid 1830s, a later painting such as The Good Farmer shows how artificial these distinctions can be. It is a glorious piece of Victorian late Romanticism.

 1. Cited in A.H. Palmer, The life and letters of Samuel Palmer, painter and etcher, (London, 1892), pp. 15-16.

See:  Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, 'Samuel Palmer', in William MacAloon (ed.), Art at Te Papa (Wellington, 2009), p. 50.

Dr Mark Stocker    Curator, Historical International Art   May 2018



Descriptive Medium: watercolour and gouache

Image Licence

Image Credit

No Known Copyright Restrictions

From the Watercolour World


British Isles