The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Samuel Palmer, 1805-1881

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1805.01.27
Place of Birth: Newington, London
Date of Death: 1881.05.24
Place of Death: Redhill, Surrey


Samuel Palmer was a painter, draughtsman and etcher. He was the son of a bookseller. In 1837 he married John Linnell's daughter Hannah. They had a son Alfred H. Palmer, who became his father's biographer.


Palmer was a central figure in the Romantic movement and one of William Blake's main followers. He studied under William Wate from 1818. His early works were pastoral, nostalgic, visionary and inspired by Neo-Platonic theory. He was part of a group of British painters and engravers, including George Richmond, Edward Calvert, Francis Oliver Finch, Henry Walter, Welby Sherman, Frederick Tatham, Arthur Tatham and John Giles, who called themselves 'the Ancients'. He received professional recognition after he was elected a full member of the Old Water Colour Society, but he was constantly troubled with financial and personal problems.

Importantly, his greatest skill seemed to be in etching which gave him the opportunity to explore intricate details and tonal effects. In 1850 he was elected to the Etching Club. In 1880, encouraged by his publisher P. G. Hamerton, he began a set of ten etchings illustrating Virgil. They were completed by his son after his death.

On 15 December 1883 Henry ('Arry') Quilter (1851-1907), advocate and art critic [more] wrote a review of Palmer's illustrations of Virgil's Eclogues in the Spectator. A further review appeared on 26 December 1883 in the World. In this article Quilter mistook a drawing for an etching. JW responded with cutting letters in the World, on 2 and 25 January 1884 (#10690, #11398]. JW did not realise that Palmer was dead and asked Ernest George Brown to inform him of the matter (#03607).


Wood, Christopher, The Dictionary of Victorian Painters (Woodbridge: Antique Collectors' Club, 1978); Getscher, Robert H., and Paul G. Marks, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Two Annotated Bibliographies, New York and London, 1986; M. Rosenthal, 'Samuel Palmer', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 1st July 2003).