Scene from Lee, North Devon, painted in 1835, is arguably Palmer’s most beautiful painting in oil and has never previously been exhibited to the public. Although the Fitzwilliam has many of Palmer’s letters and a good small group of watercolours, drawings and prints, including The Magic Apple Tree, this is his first painting in oils to be acquired.
Palmer was one of the most charismatic and influential British painters of the Romantic movement. Acquainted with William Blake (1757-1827), son-in-law to John Linnell (1792-1882) and an intimate friend of George Richmond (1809-1896), he holds an important place amongst the group of artists known as ‘The Ancients’. Although he was a prolific draughtsman and painter in watercolour, Samuel Palmer’s oil paintings are extremely rare; examples are at Tate Britain, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and Manchester City Art Gallery. Scene from Lee, North Devon, shows Palmer at his best, having mastered the technique of oil painting sufficiently to pay proper homage to Claude Lorrain (1604/5-1682), always one of the most influential of foreign artists on British painters. In particular Claude is recalled by the rendering of light over the sea, whilst the handling of foreground effects, in part influenced by John Linnell, retains the idiosyncratic qualities and intensity for which Palmer’s early work is justly famous.
Palmer painted Scene from Lee, North Devon, as a result of the expedition he made to south-west England in 1834. Apart from the painting’s intrinsic beauty, it represents a topographical view of one of the most lovely parts of the southern coast of the British Isles, showing it before any disfigurement by buildings and roads. His son wrote of the effect upon his father of the scenery of this part of England which ‘even before he had explored it, seems to have commended itself to my father’s affections, and afterwards became his ideal of English scenery’. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835 (no. JO).
Acquisition Date: 2003