Monthly Archives: July 2014

Olive Schreiner’s Solitary Plain

Olive Schreiner

The following are excerpts from the first chapter of The Story of an African Farm (1883) by Olive Schreiner:

 

 

 

 

The Watch.

The full African moon poured down its light from the blue sky into the wide, lonely plain. The dry, sandy earth, with its coating of stunted karoo bushes a few inches high, the low hills that skirted the plain, the milk-bushes with their long finger-like leaves, all were touched by a weird and an almost oppressive beauty as they lay in the white light.

In one spot only was the solemn monotony of the plain broken. Near the centre a small solitary kopje rose. Alone it lay there, a heap of round ironstones piled one upon another, as over some giant’s grave. Here and there a few tufts of grass or small succulent plants had sprung up among its stones, and on the very summit a clump of prickly-pears lifted their thorny arms, and reflected, as from mirrors, the moonlight on their broad fleshy leaves. At the foot of the kopje lay the homestead. First, the stone-walled sheep kraals and Kaffer huts; beyond them the dwelling-house—a square, red-brick building with thatched roof. Even on its bare red walls, and the wooden ladder that led up to the loft, the moonlight cast a kind of dreamy beauty, and quite etherealized the low brick wall that ran before the house, and which inclosed a bare patch of sand and two straggling sunflowers. On the zinc roof of the great open wagon-house, on the roofs of the outbuildings that jutted from its side, the moonlight glinted with a quite peculiar brightness, till it seemed that every rib in the metal was of burnished silver.

Sleep ruled everywhere, and the homestead was not less quiet than the solitary plain.

The Sacrifice.

The farm by daylight was not as the farm by moonlight. The plain was a weary flat of loose red sand, sparsely covered by dry karoo bushes, that cracked beneath the tread like tinder, and showed the red earth everywhere. Here and there a milk-bush lifted its pale-coloured rods, and in every direction the ants and beetles ran about in the blazing sand. The red walls of the farmhouse, the zinc roofs of the outbuildings, the stone walls of the kraals, all reflected the fierce sunlight, till the eye ached and blenched. No tree or shrub was to be seen far or near. The two sunflowers that stood before the door, out-stared by the sun, drooped their brazen faces to the sand; and the little cicada-like insects cried aloud among the stones of the kopje.

Jean-François Millet (1814–1875), The Sheepfold, Moonlight, oil on panel, 45.3 cm (17.8 in). X 63.4 cm (25 in), between 1856 and 1860, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Jean-François Millet (1814–1875), The Sheepfold, Moonlight, oil on panel, 45.3 cm (17.8 in). X 63.4 cm (25 in), between 1856 and 1860, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

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Samuel Palmer’s Shadowy Vision

Self-portrait, c. 1825

Self-portrait, c. 1825

Samuel Palmer’s (January 27, 1805 – May 24, 1881) best paintings and graphic work were a reflection of the natural world filtered through his rich, shadowy imagination. Palmer himself was very much a product of the Romantic era in which he lived. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, and Milton were among his major literary influences, while Turner stands out as one of the strongest forces in painting to have an effect on his development. Above all of these, though, it was perhaps William Blake who became the most important. While Blake’s work could be seen as more purely visionary, Palmer stood firmly in both the natural and the imagined world. At various times throughout his career, the imagery in his work might sway more one way than the other, but the visionary landscapes that mark both early and late periods in his life are the ones that maintain their power and have a continued presence even in contemporary painting.

Samuel Palmer, Early Morning, brown ink and sepia mixed with gum arabic, 18.8 x 23.2 cm, 1825, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Samuel Palmer, Early Morning, brown ink and sepia mixed with gum arabic, 18.8 x 23.2 cm, 1825, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Samuel Palmer, Late Twilight, brown ink and sepia mixed with gum arabic, 18 x 23.8 cm, 1825, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Samuel Palmer, Late Twilight, brown ink and sepia mixed with gum arabic, 18 x 23.8 cm, 1825, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The shadows in Samuel Palmer’s paintings convey a deep sense of mystery, the same profundity he once experienced as a young boy and tried to convey in his work throughout his life:

When less than four years old I was standing with my nurse, Mary Ward, watching the shadows on the wall from branches of an elm behind which the moon had risen. I have never forgot those shadows and am often trying to paint them.
                                                                                                                                – Samuel Palmer

 

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