Tag Archives: nature

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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Blackwood’s Dark Nature

Some snippets from the weird tales of Algernon Blackwood

From The Willows (1907)

Reproduction of a painting by Maurits Willem van der Valk (1857-1935), from the book Dutch art in the 19th Century (1909) by G. Hermine Marius, translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos

Reproduction of a painting by Maurits Willem van der Valk (1857-1935), from the book Dutch Art in the 19th Century (1909) by G. Hermine Marius, translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos

 

The change came suddenly, as when a series of bioscope pictures snaps down on the streets of a town and shifts without warning into the scenery of lake and forest. We entered the land of desolation on wings, and in less than half an hour there was neither boat nor fishing-hut nor red roof, nor any single sign of human habitation and civilization within sight. The sense of remoteness from the world of humankind, the utter isolation, the fascination of this singular world of willows, winds, and waters, instantly laid its spell upon us both, so that we allowed laughingly to one another that we ought by rights to have held some special kind of passport to admit us, and that we had, somewhat audaciously, come without asking leave into a separate little kingdom of wonder and magic—a kingdom that was reserved for the use of others who had a right to it, with everywhere unwritten warnings to trespassers for those who had the imagination to discover them.

From The Man Whom the Trees Loved (1912)

He painted trees as by some special divining instinct of their essential qualities. He understood them. He knew why in an oak forest, for instance, each individual was utterly distinct from its fellows, and why no two beeches in the whole world were alike. People asked him down to paint a favorite lime or silver birch, for he caught the individuality of a tree as some catch the individuality of a horse. How he managed it was something of a puzzle, for he never had painting lessons, his drawing was often wildly inaccurate, and, while his perception of a Tree Personality was true and vivid, his rendering of it might almost approach the ludicrous. Yet the character and personality of that particular tree stood there alive beneath his brush—shining, frowning, dreaming, as the case might be, friendly or hostile, good or evil. It emerged.

And finally, from Sand (1912)

Already something in himself had changed. A restlessness, as of that wandering wind, woke in his heart—the desire to be off and away. Other things could rouse this wildness too: falling water, the singing of a bird, an odour of wood-fire, a glimpse of winding road. But the cry of wind, always searching, questioning, travelling the world’s great routes, remained ever the master-touch. High longing took his mood in hand. Mid seven millions he felt suddenly—lonely.

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

 

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The Unit of the World

Frontispiece from Poems (1921) by Alice Meynell, from a drawing by John Singer Sargent

Frontispiece from Poems (1921) by Alice Meynell, from a drawing by John Singer Sargent

Adriaen van Ostade (Dutch, 1610 - 1685 ), The Spinner, 1652, etching on laid paper, 13.7 x 17.5 cm (5 3/8 x 6 7/8 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington

Adriaen van Ostade (Dutch, 1610 – 1685 ), The Spinner, 1652, etching on laid paper, 13.7 x 17.5 cm (5 3/8 x 6 7/8 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington

The following is an excerpt from The Unit of the World, an essay by the Victorian writer and suffragist, Alice Meynell, from her book, The Rhythm of Life:

The quarrel of Art with Nature goes on apace.  The painters have long been talking of selecting, then of rejecting, or even, with Mr. Whistler, of supplanting.  And then Mr. Oscar Wilde, in the witty and delicate series of inversions which he headed ‘The Decay of Lying,’ declared war with all the irresponsibility naturally attending an act so serious.  He seems to affirm that Nature is less proportionate to man than is architecture; that the house is built and the sofa is made measurable by the unit measure of the body; but that the landscape is set to some other scale.  ‘I prefer houses to the open air.  In a house we all feel of the proper proportions.  Egotism itself, which is so necessary to a proper sense of human dignity, is absolutely the result of indoor life.’  Nevertheless, before it is too late, let me assert that though nature is not always clearly and obviously made to man’s measure, he is yet the unit by which she is measurable.  The proportion may be far to seek at times, but the proportion is there.  Man’s farms about the lower Alps, his summer pastures aloft, have their relation to the whole construction of the range; and the range is great because it is great in regard to the village lodged in a steep valley in the foot hills.  The relation of flower and fruit to his hands and mouth, to his capacity and senses (I am dealing with size, and nothing else), is a very commonplace of our conditions in the world.  The arm of man is sufficient to dig just as deep as the harvest is to be sown.  And if some of the cheerful little evidences of the more popular forms of teleology are apt to be baffled, or indefinitely postponed, by the retorts that suggest themselves to the modern child, there remains the subtle and indisputable witness borne by art itself: the body of man composes with the mass and the detail of the world.  The picture is irrefutable, and the picture arranges the figure amongst its natural accessories in the landscape, and would not have them otherwise.

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