Samuel Palmer, In a Shoreham Garden, c. 1829
Richly painted,In a Shoreham Garden imitates the technique of an oil painting.Although it’s a watercolor, the pigment has been applied so generously to the surface, creating depth and texture, representative of the natural environment. At the center of this colorful and complex garden, our eyes are first drawn to a large tree. The bark of the trunk, covered with lichens and moss, becomes accentuated by the beautiful foliage of pink and white flower blossoms that flourish among its branches. An abundance of trees, bushes, flowers, and plants resides on both the left and right side of the composition. Predominately yellow and green colors take over, as red, white, and black outlines contribute to the variety of foliage that exists in the garden. The yellow and green also serves as a dynamic contrast between the pink and white tree that we are first drawn to. An interesting path extends from the foreground toward the back of the composition, leading us to the focal point. Dreamy, mysterious, and ghost – like, the figure of a woman in a long red and white dress seems to be moving or floating toward the right area of the canvas. The abrupt view of a smaller, distant figure, dressed in such dramatic colors of red and white, seems very unusual to the rest of the painting. Perhaps this element of color is what creates such a strong and vibrant focal point to the painting. Finally, near the foreground, at the right – hand edge of the design, our eyes are drawn to a wooden structure, suggesting a shed or house.(Lister, The Paintings of Samuel Palmer, 18 – 22)
What is so imperative about this painting is that Palmer was able to achieve freedom within the paint, creating a vivid and imaginative piece, very different from his previous work. As an artist, Palmer ‘s environment and surroundings influenced his work in many ways. Some believe In a Shoreham Garden was the turning point in Palmer ‘s life, which opened him up to a new level of spirituality and discovery.
Living in London for a large portion of his life, Samuel Palmer grew more and more uncomfortable within this environment. He wanted to be surrounded by an abundance of pure nature as opposed to industry and pollution. With the fast pace and complexity of city life, surrounded by a community of social unrest, Palmer wasn’t able to practice his religious and spiritual life the way he envisioned it (Rosenblum, 156). With greater plans in mind, Samuel Palmer and his family moved to Shoreham, a town outside of London. In Shoreham, Palmer formed a group called the Ancients with George Richmond and Edward Calvert, artists who were also interested in similar subjects of combining spirituality with art. During Palmer ‘s time at Shoreham, he was surrounded by the countryside. Sheltered from the industrial and materialistic society he despised, Palmer felt more at ease in his life, focusing on simplicity and important moral values. Nature, strong religious values, and a comfortable emotional state engulfed him as he searched further for different ways of expression. Rather than trying to express something as realistic as it was, Palmer began to represent it as an expression of his soul, connecting it to the spiritual world within him (Lister, Samuel Palmer: His Life and Art, 48 – 49). According to Rosenblum, his art, rediscovered in the mid-twentieth century, was so often compared to Van Gogh’s is a tribute to his capacity to render through landscape a bursting, luminous energy whose origins seem more supernatural then natural (Rosenblum, 156).