Exhibition Notes

This page refers to the physical exhibition at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
17 July - 4 November, 2001, Glaisher Gallery
The images in the John Linnell Archive virtual exhibit have been highlighted for your convenience.

Exhibition Divisions


1. Miss Sheppard: Portrait of John Linnell

Pencil on paper
Late 1820s, early 1830s
Miss Sheppard was one of John Linnell’s pupils.

On loan from a Linnell Family collection

2. Catalogue of fine double hyacinths, narcissuses, & other curious bulbs & plants … by Thomas Linnell, nursery, seedsman, and florist

John Linnell states in his autobiographical notes (see 3) that it was Thomas Linnell who brought up his Father, James. However, this appears to be a mistake – the notes were written when John Linnell was in his seventies. James and his sister Ruth were left in the care of their Uncle John, following the death of other family members of smallpox. This Uncle lived in Paddington and had a son, Thomas, who is the nurseryman mentioned in the autobiographical notes and the author of this catalogue. The sister, Ruth, died shortly afterwards and James was apprenticed to a carver and gilder.


3. First sheet of John Linnell’s autobiographical notes

The autobiography written around 1863 is in note format on 82 sheets. On this first sheet John Linnell provides some information on his family background (see 2) and describes his childhood visits to a female cousin:

"Mrs. Symonds wife of a respectable farmer who lived on part of the grounds of the Marquis of Buckingham in Portobello Lane between Paddington & Wormwood Scrubs near the north-end of Black-Lion Lane Bayswater and it is with this place that my pleasantest recollections are connected …"


Quote: First Commissions

4. John Linnell's student card for admittance to the Royal Academy

Issued 28th November 1805

The reverse gives Linnell access to the Life classes and has been signed by Henry Tresham and Henry Fuseli.


5. Benjamin West: Letter of Introduction for John Linnell, 15th July 1818

Linnell wished to make a copy of a portrait by Holbein in the King's collection at Windsor Castle. For this purpose Linnell obtained a letter of introduction from Benjamin West, the President of the Royal Academy. West, who had taken an early interest in Linnell, refers to him as "an ingenious young artist".


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For around 30 years Linnell’s main income came from portraiture. Although his main passion was for landscapes, he undertook this work to support his family. He received numerous commissions from the aristocracy and religious figures. His portraits cover all aspects of society; in 1821 he painted two miniatures of Princess Sophia Matilda, while in 1830 he painted portraits of various workmen engaged in building his London home as part payment against their wages. His portraits of eminent personages include Rev. T. R. Malthus, Richard Whately (Archbishop of Dublin), Sir Robert Peel and Thomas Carlyle as well as fellow artists including John Varley, William Collins, William Mulready and Turner (the latter from memory). Linnell even received some commissions for portraits of those who had just died, for example a drawing of Lord Kerry commissioned by Mr. Walker, a surgeon. This was one of a number of commissions Linnell received from Mr. Walker which included "two views of a diseased liver from Nature"!

Quote: Royal Commissions

6. John Linnell: Self-portrait

Pencil on paper 185x113mm

Lent anonymously

7. Sir Henry Torrens to John Linnell, 16th February 1821

Referring to the Torrens family portrait on which Linnell worked from 1819-1821, Sir Henry writes, "I had a peep at the picture yesterday & was delighted with it". Linnell records in his journal for 16th February 1821, "Named 300£ to Lady Torrens as the price of my picture of herself & family - she said it was not too much." The price of the frame was an additional amount and was made by James Linnell – a memorandum was drawn up between John Linnell and his Father concerning this.


8. Robert John Thornton to John Linnell, April 17 1821

Thornton was Linnell’s doctor and family friend. Concerning the Torrens family portrait he writes, "I brought to your house that great historical painter, Mr James Ward, who was commissioned to paint the Duke of Wellington, surrounded by an allegory, expressive of the effects produced by the battle of Waterloo – to see your very fine painting of Lady Torrens & her family. – The group seems an allegory, unless you had declared them all portraits, for I never saw so many of one family, and each a picture – that distinguished academician was wonderful struck at the painting …"


Photograph of John Linnell's painting of Lady Torrens and her Family, 1820

Oil on canvas
Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Katherine Harper Mead Memorial Fund purchase

Linnell regarded Lady Torrens as "the best friend I ever found in that class of life" and undertook much work for the family. In his Autobiographical notes, he writes, "I met Lady Torrens for the first time at these sittings [for Colonel Dumaresque], and was soon after employed by Sir Henry Torrens, who then lived at Fulham, next to the B[ishop] of London. There Lady Torrens, in the most exemplary manner educated her six children to the admiration of all who witnessed the harmony & happiness with which her family was conducted & had Sir Henry been more like Lady Torrens & had more of her quiet Scotch prudence & less of the Irishman as he was they might have done better still & had larger means at command. Their history is romantic. Sir Henry, then Col. Torrens was wounded in India & on his way home stayed at St. Helena where Lady Torrens then a lassie or lass lived with her Father who was the Governor of the Island (Govr. Paton I think was the name). Miss Paton in the old knight servant style leached the wounds of Col. Torrens received in India but cured them only to inflict the deeper one of love which she cured also by marrying him and a noble pair they showed even with their six children all of whom I painted in one group and exhibited at the R.A. 1821. Several of these I painted again afterwards. Miss Torrens more than once – the eldest son Henry when he was going to India – poor Lady Torrens felt it deeply, she thanked me so kindly for my exertions to make a good likeness (it was upon ivory) – alas he returned not but died in India & now [in] 1863 there is only the eldest daughter Lady Anstruther left, if she is left, of all that beautiful family …" (Autobiographical notes, MS32-2000, f.63)

9.  Sir Ralph Anstruther to John Linnell, Aug. 29 1832

This letter concerns Linnell’s portrait of Lady Anstruther, who was the eldest daughter of Lady Torrens (shown standing on the right of the Torrens family portrait). Ansthruther declares it, "gives the greatest satisfaction – independent of the likeness which is perfect, it is a very work of art." He adds, "Lady Torrens is highly delighted with the picture."


10. John Linnell: Dr. Robert Gooch, MD

Engraving printed on thick wove

The engraving of Robert Gooch is taken from Linnell’s 1827 portrait which was exhibited at the Royal Academy. In 1826 Gooch had been appointed Librarian to the King. This commission followed Gooch’s death in 1830 of consumption. According to his journal Linnell employed an engraver to assist him – it was not unusual for Linnell to sub-contract engraving work.

On loan from a Linnell Family collection

11. John Constable to John Linnell, 1831

In 1831 Linnell sent Constable a copy of his engraving of Robert Gooch, who had been a friend of Constable’s as well as his doctor. Constable replied that, "this portrait is one of the most perfect I ever saw. I can nearly hold converse with it". In a P.S. he added, "you may know that Dr. Gooch presented me with most of my children!"


Photograph of John Linnell's painting of Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, 1838

Oil on panel
National Portrait Gallery (NPG772)

This painting can be viewed at the National Portrait Gallery.

In a letter to his daughter, Hannah, dated 5th December 1837 (MS77-2000) Linnell wrote, "I have nearly finished Sir Robert Peel’s portrait and it is thought very like – he has been very polite and kind in showing me his pictures &c." In a further letter dated 20th August 1838 (MS86-2000) Linnell records that the artist William Collins, "saw my portrait of Sir R. Peel on the easel and praised it very much, said it was as like as possible which is very gratifying to me as I expected a very different criticism from him."

12. John Linnell to Mr. Grundy (copy), December 1850

Following an enquiry from a Mr. Grundy of Manchester, Linnell provided details of Sir Robert Peel’s sittings for him informing him, "I feel bound to acknowledge the great kindness I experienced from Sir R Peel in his sitting to me in my own room though I offered to wait upon him. He more than once brought his daughter with him at the sittings & was exceedingly obliging and communicative."


Adverse criticism

As is only to be expected not all Linnell’s sitters were pleased with their portraits. The correspondence concerning Linnell’s portraits reveals examples of dissatisfaction such as those from Philip Wykham and Lady Methuen, while Linnell had to make changes in order to satisfy his clients.

13. Philip Thomas Wykham to John Linnell, 28th December 1817

Philip Wykham was not satisfied with his family portrait of himself, his wife and his son, Herbert. He highlighted various aspects he considered needing changing: "The light thrown upon the hip of Mrs. W. makes her body particularly long, and the thigh very short. The foot is vastly too thick and, Herbert’s hands appear nearly black … those persons who have seen it have not fail’d to give an unfavourable opinion as to Mrs. W while they have extoll’d the other parts of the picture." On the whole the Wykehams’ must have been pleased with Linnell’s works as he received further commissions from them. However, in a letter dated 26th May 1820 Philip Wykham complained to Linnell about the increase in his charges and Linnell received no further work from him.


14. Lady Methuen to John Linnell, together with a copy (or draft) of his reply

Lady Methuen strongly disapproved of the portrait of her husband: "I am sorry to tell you that no one of the family consider it like Lord Methuen nor do the few friends who have seen it today. The general opinion is that the head & face are too square & that of a coarser looking person than Lord M. and the whole carriage & air do not give the idea of his bearing." Linnell’s subsequent amendments to the portrait were evidently satisfactory as in a further letter (MS3132-2000) dated Dec. 7 1844, Lady Methuen thanks Linnell for, "the trouble you have so successfully taken with our portraits. Of the likeness of Lord Metheun, there cannot be two opinions …"


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John Linnell and William Blake first met in 1818. They formed a close friendship which lasted until Blake’s death in 1827. Linnell became his last major patron. He introduced Blake to personages who might buy his work and regularly purchased items for himself (the Fitzwilliam has Linnell’s own copies of a number of Blake’s works). However, it was with his commissions in respect of the Book of Job and Dante’s Divine Comedy that Linnell was able to support Blake for the final years of his life.

Linnell also introduced Blake to a number of younger artists (including John Varley and Samuel Palmer) who in turn introduced others. Thus due largely to Linnell, Blake spent the final years of life in the presence of a circle of admirers. This group of disciples was known as the Ancients and consisted of Samuel Palmer, George Richmond, Edward Calvert, Francis Oliver Finch, Frederick and Arthur Tatham, Henry Walter, Welby Sherman and John Giles.

Quote: Linnell on Blake

15. John Linnell: William Blake, 1821

Miniature in watercolour on ivory

Linnell painted this portrait in the same year Blake commenced work on the Illustrations of the Book of Job.

Bequeathed by T. H. Riches

Photograph of John Linnell and William Blake's Engraving of James Upton

P.429-1985 (Bequeathed by Sir Geoffrey Keynes)
(Not currently on display)

Linnell’s first commission for Blake was to undertake preliminary work on an engraving of Mr. Upton which Linnell himself was to complete. He recalled, "I first became acquainted with William Blake to whom I paid a visit in company with the younger Mr. Cumberland, Blake lived then in South Molton St., Oxford St. second floor. We soon became intimate & I employed him to help me with an engraving of my portrait of Mr. Upton, a Baptist preacher, which he was glad to do having scarcely enough employment to live by at the prices he could obtain, everything in art was at a low ebb then – even Turner could not sell his pictures for as many hundreds as they have since fetched thousands" (Autobiographical Notes f.57)

The Archive contains three letters from R. Pontifex, who had commissioned the engraving from Linnell, requesting changes to be made. The Fitzwilliam engraving is an impression of the second state of the portrait.

16. Receipt of William Blake to John Linnell, 11th September 1818

In total, Blake received £15 for his share of the work on the Upton engraving.

Bequest of Sir Geoffrey Keynes

17. Journal of John Linnell for the years 1817-1823

The entry for 12th September 1818 records Blake bringing the Upton plate he had been working on to Linnell: "Mr Blake brought a proof of Mr Upton’s plate. Left the plate & named 15£ as the price of what was already done by him. Mr Varley - & Mr Constable stay’d with Blake."


18. Receipt from Thomas Palmer to John Linnell, 31st January 1826

Thomas Palmer, Linnell’s father-in-law, was a coal merchant and bookseller. This receipt for coal supplied to Blake shows an instance of Linnell’s support of Blake.


Illustrations for the Book of Job

Blake had made a series of watercolour drawings illustrating the Book of Job for his earlier patron, Thomas Butts. When Linnell saw these he commissioned Blake to make a replica set for himself. In September 1821 Linnell and Blake traced the outlines from the originals. Blake then worked on the replica set for which he was paid sums on account over the following year. No one else expressed interest in having a copy and in 1823 Linnell commissioned Blake to provide a set of engravings for Job, a contract to this effect being drawn up dated 25th March. Blake was to be paid £100 for a set of 20 plates and a further £100 of the profits if this could be supported by sales. For the next two years, Linnell paid Blake sums on account in respect of the commission. Blake initially produced a set of drawings, mainly in pencil and reduced in size from the watercolours, for the engravings. These are held by the Fitzwilliam Museum, having been bequeathed by T. H. Riches. In the end Blake produced 22 engravings including the title-page. There was no profit and on July 14 1826 Blake signed a receipt for £150 to include £50 for the copyright. An edition of 100 plain copies and 215 proof copies was issued. In 1874 a further edition was published using the original plates – 100 copies on India paper.


19. William Blake: Illustrations for the Book of Job, Plate 11: Job’s evil dreams

"With dreams upon my bed thou scarest me & affrightest me with visions"
(Job 8:13-15)

Here Satan comes to Job by night in the form of God but is recognisable by the serpent coiled round him and the cloven feet. Two scaly devils have grabbed hold of Job while a third awaits holding a chain.

Bequeathed by Sir Geoffrey Keynes

20. Draft advertisement for Illustrations of the Book of Job

John Linnell compares Blake to Albert Durer "with whose works and such alone they [Blake’s Job plates] are to be compared … In fact as a modern work they are unique". J. H. Chance, who is given as the agent, was Linnell’s nephew.


William Blake:
Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy: Inferno Canto V –
The Circle of the Lustful, Paolo and Francesca

Progress proof, 1827
Plate 275x353mm; Sheet 320x403 mm


And now begin the dolesome notes to grow
Audible unto me; now I come
There where much lamentation strikes upon me.
I came into a place mute of all light,
Which bellows as the sea does in a tempest,
If by opposing winds ‘t is combated.
The infernal hurricane that never rests
Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine;
Whirling them around, and smiting, it molests them

Dante's Inferno Canto 5, lines 25-33
Translated by H. W. Longfellow

In 1824, whilst Blake was still working on Job, Linnell provided him with a new commission to provide illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy. At the time of his death he was still working on this commission having produced a series of 102 watercolours (together with some additional drawings) and 7 engraved plates in various stages of completion.

The engraving illustrates the second circle of Hell where those being punished for carnal sins are swept around in an eternal wind. Here are found Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta. Francesca was married for political reasons to Gianciotto, the deformed son of Malatesta da Verrucchio. However, a love affair developed between Francesca and Paolo, Gianciotto’s younger brother. When Gianciotto discovered the affair he killed the lovers. In Dante Francesca and Paola are eternally damned but Blake suggests redemption for the lovers in his illustration.

Given by T. H. Riches

22. John Linnell’s cash book for the years 1822-1836

The pages displayed for 1825 show payments on account to Blake in respect of Job (3rd and 30th October) and on 21st December the first entry for Dante is recorded. Linnell purchased copies of Blake’s works for himself and entries for 6th October and 19th November record payments for Blake’s drawings of Paradise Regained. Linnell’s copies of these drawings are held now by the Fitzwilliam having been bequeathed by T. H. Riches.


23. William Blake to John Linnell, 15 March 1827

Here Blake informs Linnell that George Cumberland has as yet been unable to sell a copy of Job in Bristol, it being, "too much finishd or overlaboured for his Bristol friends as they think". Blake also refers to the progress he is making on the Dante engravings.

The Blake-Linnell correspondence was sold at the Christie’s sale of Blake material in the collection of John Linnell on 15th March, 1918 and unfortunately is no longer part of the Linnell Archive. This letter was bequeathed to the Museum by T. H. Riches, who purchased it at the auction (lot 212)


24. George Cumberland (Senior) to Mrs. Blake, 14th August 1827

Written after the death of Blake on the August 12th, Cumberland recounts to Mrs. Blake his failure to sell copies of Job in the Bristol area: "That elaborate work, I have not only shown to all our amateurs and artists here without success, but am now pushing it through Clifton by means of Mr. Lane the Bookseller there, having previously placed it with Mr. Tyson, Mr. Trimlet, and another of our Printsellers here without success – and as that is the case, and that even those who desired me to write to my friend for a list of his works & prices (among whom were his great admirers from having seen what I possessed) – viz Dr. King of Clifton & Mr. Rippengale the artist) declined giving him any orders on account, they said of the prices – I should not recommend you to send any more here…"

There was in fact little public demand for the work – thus, for instance, the plain copies published in 1825 did not sell out until 1863.


25. John Linnell: Frederick Tatham

Graphite on paper

 The son of Charles Heathcote Tatham, the architect, both he and his brother Arthur were members of the Ancients; their sister, Julia, married George Richmond. Frederick was both a sculptor and painter. He claimed that Blake’s wife had left him all her husband’s works – a claim always denied by Linnell. Thus the drawing probably dates to before Mrs. Blake’s death in 1831 when Blake’s works became a matter of dispute. Linnell believed that Blake’s sister should have inherited these. Also Tatham demanded that Linnell give him the works on Dante which were in his possession. Linnell refused as he had after all paid Blake for these – though he had been prepared to sell them to raise money for Blake’s wife before her death.

Tatham later joined a fundamentalist religious sect becoming an Irvingite and is reported to have destroyed some of Blake’s works believing them to have been inspired by the Devil.

Given by R. M. M. Pryor

26. Frederick Tatham to John Linnell, 18th October 1831

Tatham writes to inform Linnell:

"of the death of Mrs Blake who passed from death to life this morning at half past 7. After bitter pains, lasting 24 hours, she faded away as the whisper of a breeze."


27. W. M. Rossetti to John Linnell, together with copy/draft of Linnell’s reply dated 24th December, 1862

Linnell was consulted by Alexander Gilchrist concerning the biography of Blake he was writing – this was completed by his wife following his death. Linnell was anxious that Blake should not be misrepresented. A story that he was particularly anxious to suppress was that Blake copied his dragons from heraldic designs. Having found out the source of this story from W. M. Rossetti, Linnell replied confirming his belief that the story had no foundation:

"But the fact is, dragons are rather uncommon. There are none in the Zoological Gardens. They are traditional, & all have been drawn from the same type, or nearly so, & hence unavoidable similarity. Blake, however, has given a sublimity of character to his dragons and serpents which we look in vain for elsewhere, and those who could not see the grandeur of Blake’s conceptions were always spiteful in their criticisms …"


Quote: Linnell on Gilchrist's Biography of Blake

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Samuel Palmer was seventeen years old when he met Linnell. At the time Palmer had rather lost his way artistically. He recorded in one of his notebooks, "… by the time I had practised for about five years I entirely lost all feeling for art … But it pleased God to send Mr. Linnell as a good angel from Heaven to pluck me from the pit of modern art…" Linnell inspired him – he offered instruction, he took him to art galleries and introduced him to other artists, most notably Blake who had a profound influence on Palmer.

Palmer’s most visionary period was whilst living in the remote Kent village of Shoreham from 1826 to 1833. The letters in this case all relate to the Shoreham years.

28. Samuel Palmer to John Linnell, September, 1828

Palmer was still receiving instruction from Linnell and writes, "I have begun two studies for you on grey paper at Lullingstone – if you make haste you may prevent my spoiling them". A key passage refers to the differences of approach between the two artists. Linnell’s injunction was to paint from nature, while Palmer preferred to rely more on his imagination:

"Have I not been a good boy? I may safely boast that I have not entertain’d a single imaginative thought these six weeks, while I am drawing from Nature vision seems foolishness to me – the arms of an old rotten tree trunk more curious than the arms of Buonaroti’s Moses – Venus de Medicis finer than the ‘Night’ of Lorenzo’s tomb and Jacob Ruysdaal a sweeter finish than William Blake. However, I dare say it is good to draw from visible creation because it is a sort of practice and refreshes the mind tired with better things and prevents spoiling them which I have so often done and so bitterly lament."


29. Samuel Palmer to John Linnell, December 21st 1828

This is in the main a poetic essay on imaginative art and nature. Palmer argues that a literal representation of nature in art can distract from the overall vision due to nature’s complexity. As an example he notes that Milton by one epithet was able to convey vividly a massive oak but with his attempts to draw one in Lullingstone, "the moss, and rifts, and barky furrows, and the mouldering grey, tho’ that adds majesty to the lord of forests, mostly catch the eye before the grasp and grapple of the roots, the muscular belly and shoulders; the twisted sinews."

Palmer also goes on to praise Linnell: "Those glorious round clouds which you paint I do think inimitably, are alone an example how the elements of nature may be transmitted into the pure gold of art: I would give something to get their style of form into the torso of a figure."


30. John Linnell to Samuel Palmer, August 26th 1828

Linnell was also inspired by Shoreham as this letter demonstrates: "I dream of being there every night almost & when I wake it is sometime before I recollect that I am at Bayswater." On a subsequent visit Linnell, being weak from an illness, was pushed around the village in a wheelbarrow or hand cart.


George Richmond: Self-portrait, c1830

Graphite, heightened with white on buff paper
549x480mm (PD.204-1985)
Bequeathed by Sir Geoffrey Keynes

This drawing is not currently on display, but a self-portrait in oils can be viewed in Gallery 2. George Richmond was a member of the Ancients and became a highly successful portrait painter. At the time Linnell stopped portraiture, there are entries in his journals referring work to Richmond.

31. George Richmond to Samuel Palmer, November 19th 1828

Written at Calais, this was a place Richmond detested: "It is I think without exception the dirtyest, flattest, most stinking & unsentimental place I ever was in but I hope in a fortnight to bid adieu to it and all its accompanyments of Monkeys, English-vagabonds & weavers which form the population. I really think if I were living here by myself instead of as I am at Mr W house a month would be my upmost span for I should either die melancholy mad or be found drowned in one of the numerous putrid moates."  Palmer had written to Richmond reporting that Linnell had told him he could earn a thousand a year with studies of Shoreham scenery. Palmer wrote that he would not sacrifice the gift God had given him for money or fame and would never be naturalist by profession. In this letter Richmond replies, "I was delighted to hear of your inflexibility about the figure for though it is certain you will not any more than Mr. Blake get a thousand a year by it yet you will have what he had a contentment in your own mind such as gold cannot purchase – or flimsy praise procure - Mr. Linnell is an extraordinary man but he is not a Mr. Blake."


The marriage of Samuel Palmer and Hannah Linnell

Samuel Palmer and Linnell’s eldest daughter, Hannah, married on 20th September, 1837 – they had been engaged for several years. Linnell had always supported the match whilst his wife was opposed. Directly after the marriage, the Palmers embarked on a tour of Italy, leaving England on 3rd October. Their tour lasted just over two years, longer than had been envisaged. Sadly, following the marriage the good relationship existing between Linnell and Palmer gradually declined due to failings on both sides.

32. Hannah Linnell to Samuel Palmer (undated)

This appears to be the only love letter Hannah wrote to her future husband, perhaps due to the opposition of her mother to the proposed marriage. She writes, "you must excuse the bad writing as no one knows of it [her letter]. I have written by stealth expecting every minute to be discovered".

However, John Linnell supported the union, noting in his journal for 6th July 1833: "Palmer’s first hint about Hannah".


33. George and Julia Richmond to Samuel Palmer, July 15 1837

This letter provides insights to the Linnells’ view of the proposed marriage and tour of Italy. George Richmond writes, "I heard nothing of decided objection when I was at the Linnells to your foreign tour. I don’t think the advantages were as present to their minds as the disadvantages of spending so much money as it would cost for uncertain good but I think this good is certain to you like yourself ... I think Linnell is very kind about it and really inclined to do all that is kind as well as fair."

Julia Richmond wrote, " I had a little conversation with Mrs. Linnell on the subject of your marriage. She seems quite to have made up her mind to relinquish all opposition & I think will do everything she can to make Anny happy, she cannot see the advantage that you hope for in your tour, and I think would not object to the early marriage provided you were not going away."


34. Declaration by Mary Ann Linnell

Faced with his wife’s continued opposition to the tour of Italy and Samuel Palmer’s determination to go, perhaps even without Hannah, Linnell, to resolve matters, insisted his wife sign a declaration agreeing to the tour.


35. Samuel Palmer’s Passport

The passport used by Palmer for the tour of Italy.


Quote: Samuel Palmer on Passport Checks

The Italian correspondence

Both sides of the family correspondence between the Linnells and the Palmers survive in the archive in respect of the tour.

36. The Palmers to the Linnells, posted 13th August 1838

This contains a letter from Hannah Palmer addressed to her parents on the third page – the rest is written by Samuel Palmer, with a long letter to John Linnell and short ones to Mrs. Linnell, and Linnell’s daughters, Elizabeth and Mary Ann (Polly). The page displayed shows the end of the letter to Elizabeth and the letter to Polly, which mainly concerns advice on elocution.


37. The Linnells to the Palmers, posted 19th February 1839

The first sheet contains a letter from John Linnell to Palmer, while the letters on the centre pages displayed are John Linnell to Hannah, separate letters from Mary Ann (Polly), Sally and Elizabeth to their sister Hannah and a further letter to Hannah from her Mother. No space has been wasted and the final page has additional passages by John Linnell written around the address (as with the Palmer letter); he has also written along the edge of his letter to Hannah and above his wife’s letter to her.


Photograph of Samuel Palmer's The City of Rome and the Vatican, from the Western Hills. Pilgrims resting on the last stage of their journey

Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on paper
Not currently on display

Quote: Palmer on Italy

38. John Linnell: The Delphic Sibyl, Sistine Chapel Roof

Mezzotint engraving by John Linnell printed in sepia coloured with watercolour and bodycolour possibly by Hannah and Samuel Palmer.

This example of one of the Sistine Chapel frescoes is from a set of around forty. They are believed by the owner to be the original set (subsequent copies were made). Fragments of address labels on the reverse of some of the mounts link them directly to John Linnell.

John Linnell gave his daughter a commission to colour a set of his engravings of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and to make coloured copies of Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican Loggias. He thought this would be a simple and enjoyable exercise for her as well as providing her with extra money. However, he greatly underestimated the amount of work and the difficulties involved. Hannah’s health was seriously affected and Samuel Palmer had to assist her; Albin Martin, a friend of Linnell and a former pupil, also became involved. Linnell became obsessed with the work being completed; in the letter below, in one of a number of references to his commission, he writes to Samuel Palmer of the Michelangelos:

"They must be done somehow or other by somebody – so if you cannot do them get some [one] to finish them. I mean to color those which yet remain to be done. I … wd rather have those completed by dear Hannah or yourself but done they must be or I shall not forgive you."

In another reference, this time in the section addressed to Hannah he comments on the problem of gaining admission, suggesting bribes and taking advantage of religious ceremonies to study them:

"You perceive how anxious I am also to have the M. Angleos completed and the Loggia … do you think a bribe – of a sovereign or two would procure the admission - try but do not pay until the entry is made. Mr Martin I hope will effect it if you cannot, surely something may be done from recollection as there is admission I suppose during religious ceremonies when you could look at the Loggias not yet done…"

However, when Linnell became aware that Hannah had become ill, he wrote to her:

"I am filled with remorse by reading your last letter; to think I should have been in any way the cause of your staying longer in Rome than you ought, I cannot express the regret I feel that this letter must be a fortnight in reaching you. I hope sincerely you will have left before – why did not you attend more to the condition upon which all my desires respecting the Loggia were expressed. I always said and reiterated that everything should give way to your feeling respecting the climate, and I think you have gone too far rather and have been too hard at work. I do not think the climate would have weakened you so, but for the hard work which leaves an exhaustion which nothing can describe." (MS102-2000)

On loan from a Linnell Family Collection

39.-40.  A letter to the Richmonds

Around May-June 1836, Samuel Palmer wrote a letter to George and Julia Richmond. Three versions of this letter exist, a draft copy (MS225-2000), a version which appears never to have been sent (MS224-2000) and a final version dated 5th June 1836 which the Richmonds actually received (not part of the Archive). The existence of these differing versions shows the considerable care taken by Palmer in the composition of his letters. In the opening paragraph Palmer is in a melancholy mood ("I am walked and scorched to death; and have then to make living pictures of dead nature"), but is cheered by a letter from his future wife Hannah. The letter covers a number of themes including the necessity of using corporal punishment to bring up children. Palmer also writes of the need for "stillness" (" … and the rooms of our houses are so crowded together that we less enjoy life than hear the noise of its machinery; it is like living in a great mill where no one can hear himself speak …")

41. John Linnell: Portrait of Samuel Palmer in Old Age

Black, red and white chalk on grey paper
Given by the Friends of Fitzwilliam Museum

42. Samuel Palmer to his son, Alfred Herbert Palmer, 22nd October 1880

Here Palmer emphasises the importance of solitude and silence in creating art-work. He also criticises two proofs of "Opening the Fold":

"I have just opened the 2 proofs – Pray throw your brown ink into the dust-hole. I have sometimes thought that, in punishment perhaps for some long forgotten sins – a malignant demon has been suffered to dash the cup from my lip – just when I thought some peculiar benefit had mercifully been sent. Such a demon could have done no worse than to suggest ‘brown ink’ to you. Both this and the former brown one, are, (to adopt a critical phrase of Mr Horsley’s) ‘BEASTLY’. The black impression is so very good (the sky absolutely perfect) that ten minutes work upon this plate would be enough …"


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Quote: Artists

43. Thomas Griffiths Wainewright to John Linnell, 28th March 1826

An artist and art critic, Wainewright is known as "the Poisoner" since he is believed to have poisoned up to three members of his family for financial gain. No charges of murder were ever brought against him but in 1837 he was convicted for forgery and transported to Tasmania. After enduring a period of hard labour, he took up art again and is now highly regarded as an early Australian portraitist. In this letter he lavishes praise on Linnell referring to his "great & diversified talents". Special mention is made of Linnell’s painting, View on the Kennet:

"It is the most poetically natural. The tone is original from its simplicity & the elegance of the trees both in form & execution cannot be excelled – therein your drawing is very prominent. I fear however that the praise of so mean a practitioner as myself may be offensive."


Photograph of John Linnell's The River Kennet, near Newbury (1815)

Canvas on wood

This fine example of Linnell’s early work can be viewed in Gallery 2. It is the work Wainewright refers to as "View on the Kennet".

44.-45. Nativities for John Linnell’s sons, John and James, prepared by John Varley

Linnell was a pupil of Varley and the two remained close friends. Varley, in addition to being a leading watercolorist and teacher of his day, was also an astrologer. Anecdotal evidence suggests he successfully predicted various occurrences. In 1828 Varley published his "Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy" for which Linnell provided the engravings. It was common for Varley to provide acquaintances with nativities/horoscopes and these appear to be examples of nativities prepared for John Linnell in respect of two of his sons. However, Linnell does not appear to have taken such matters too seriously, writing in a letter to Samuel Palmer dated 23rd November 1838 (MS90-2000):

"I have seen Mr. Varley this morning who brought me Hannah’s horoscope all drawn out very curiously. He seems much interested in your welfare & brought the nativity to show me as Hannah is in her twenty first year and he considers it an important period – I have asked him at what period she was ill during your present journey but he could not tell – perhaps some one may tell him before he consults his book & then he will know – however it is kind of him..."

MS2796-2000, MS2797-2000

Quote: On Varley

46. John Everett Millais to John Linnell

In an undated letter Millais wrote to Linnell with an enquiry:

"I want to find a small deep river with willows overhanging the banks. Is there such a thing at Under-river? A place I fancy you are familiar with, or if not can you tell me where I am likely to find what I am in search of …"

The purpose of the enquiry was to find a setting for a painting he was planning – Ophelia. There is no record of Linnell’s reply. Millais selected a location on the River Ewell near Kingston-on-Thames for the painting. His painting can be viewed at the Tate Gallery


Quote: On Millais

Linnell and Constable

47. Statement by John Linnell with last sentence written and signed by William Collins


In 1823 Linnell discovered that Constable had been spreading unfavourable reports of his conduct towards D. C. Read (a drawing master and aspiring artist to whom Linnell had given instruction and sold a painting) and a friend of Read’s, the Rev. Thomas Allies, who had commissioned a portrait from Linnell. The allegations centred on over-charging. On 22nd March Linnell, with William Collins, confronted Constable at his home concerning the reports he had been spreading. Linnell refuted the allegations by showing Constable letters he had received from Read and Allies at the time of the transactions (1819). The statement records the events of the meeting. Constable refused to sign it but agreed to contradict the allegations to anyone he remembered repeating them to.

Constable was a great gossip and later spread unfounded allegations that William Collins had made excessive charges for work undertaken for Sir Robert Peel and Peel had refused to pay. Linnell records in his autobiographical notes details of this incident; also he states his belief that he failed to be elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1821 because of the untrue reports Constable had been spreading.


48. John Constable to John Linnell, 30th July 1835

The above incident does not seem to have had much effect on the relations between Constable and Linnell. An entry in Linnell’s journal for less than a fortnight afterwards records Linnell visiting Constable and taking him to his studio "to see pictures" (5th April 1823). This cordial letter from Constable was written after he received an instalment of engravings in mezzotint by Linnell of the frescos by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. These were issued in six parts between 1833 and 1837. Constable acknowledges receipt of the "beautiful work" and hopes to possess the remainder with "unalloyed delight". He concludes, "I hope to come your way soon, when I shall have the pleasure of calling on you." In 1831 Constable had written to Linnell praising his portrait of Robert Gooch (see 11).


49. George Richmond to John Linnell, 16th October 1865

Writing on the death of Linnell’s wife, Richmond declares, "my wife and I thought much of you, and of the true friend whom we had also lost; one with yourself, when our fortunes were very low and our friends few indeed, who always received us with kindness – a kindness which neither time nor separation ever shook, and the givers of which I believe we shall always remember with most affectionate respect."


William Henry Hunt

William Hunt and Linnell had been pupils of Varley at the same time. Linnell recalled this time in his autobiographical notes.

Quote: At Millbank

50. William Henry Hunt to John Linnell, 16th November 1863

Towards the end of his life Hunt wrote to Linnell reminiscing about old times, adding, " I should so much like to see you should you ever be able to favour me with a call"


51. John Linnell to William Henry Hunt (copy or draft), 17th November 1863

Linnell replied warmly to Hunt’s letter offering some religious advice and concluding, "Your wish to see me is gratifying in every way, & I shall make a point of paying you a visit, not, however, to tease you, but to see you and your work." Linnell visited Hunt on 29th December 1863 and this turned out to be their last meeting – Hunt died on 10th February 1864.


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The Archive does not include works of art by John Linnell but there are numerous casual sketches, doodles etc. by him added to letters and other documents. Occasional sketches by others can also be found in the Archive.

52. John Linnell’s Building Book

This book was started in 1829 when Linnell decided to build a new family home in Porchester Terrace, London. He drew up preliminary plans himself on which he consulted his friend the architect Charles Heathcote Tatham. Linnell also personally supervised and monitored much of the construction of the house. This book provides a fascinating day by day account of the process. It also covers the building of a subsequent family home at Redstone Wood, Redhill and related building works.

The book is full of sketches and technical plans. On the page open it can be seen how with a few lines Linnell is able to convey the sense of action with the minutest of figures.


53. Charles Heathcote Tatham: The Finale of William Wilberforce junr.

This appears to be a private joke between Tatham and Linnell. In 1824 Linnell painted a portrait for William Wilberforce junior (1798-1897) of his wife. However, a dispute arose on the terms of the commission leading Wilberforce to write to Linnell in a letter dated 22nd July (MS3307-2000) that, "I am not now prepared to pay you for yr. picture & I shall therefore again request you to send for it immediately …" Linnell replied the same day (MS3312-2000) reminding Wilberforce of the terms that had been agreed and adding he considered the contract binding. An entry in Linnell’s journal for 4th August, the date given on the sketch, records a meeting with Wilberforce at which he received payment for the painting. Thus Wilberforce obviously backed down and it seems the sketch must refer to this.

54. John Linnell to Alfred Herbert Palmer

This undated letter to his young grandson A. H. Palmer, nicknamed Hub, includes a sketch of "Aunt Mary leading the donkey into the wood for a feast of brambles".


55. John Linnell: Three sketches of Cornelius Varley (?)

A note in the Archive suggests these pencil sketches, drawn by Linnell on a draft copy of his autobiographical notes, are of Cornelius Varley (1781-1873); this has yet to be confirmed. Cornelius, John Varley’s brother, was an inventor, optician and water-colourist.

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In 1811 Linnell started attending a Baptist Chapel on Keppel Street, Russell Square and the following year became a Baptist, having come to believe that immersion was the only true form of baptism. He doubted the accuracy of the translation of the Authorised Version of the Bible, and studied both Greek and Hebrew, especially in later life. He became increasingly hostile to the hierarchical structure of the Christian Church and its rites and ceremonies, which, he believed were contrary to Biblical teaching. Thus when in 1817 he married Mary Palmer, the eldest daughter of the Chapel Treasurer, Thomas Palmer, (no relation to Samuel Palmer) he insisted that the marriage be by civil ceremony. This necessitated an arduous and expensive journey to Scotland, a civil marriage not being possible in England at the time. Linnell was eventually excluded from the Keppel Street Chapel. A dispute had arisen with the Baptists because Linnell had not been attending public worship – this was, in fact, due to illness. There were also doctrinal differences – Linnell did not believe in public prayer (he argued that Christ prayed in secret) or in keeping the Sabbath. Following the exclusion he started a correspondence in 1830 with the Quaker poet Bernard Barton on the possibilities of becoming a Quaker but this came to nothing. In 1843 he joined the Plymouth Brethren – they had no paid preachers or ministers and studied the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek. However, there were divisions within this group and when in 1848 the Brethren decided to impeach his son John over views he had expressed on the Holy Spirit, Linnell decided to leave the Brethren. For the rest of his life he remained unaffiliated to any religious group.


Quote: On Marriage

56. John Linnell

Burnt-Offering not in the Hebrew Bible. Shown by a revised version of the first part of Leviticus

London: E. Allen, 1864

This is one of three religious tracts Linnell published. His first publication, "Diatheekee" (1856) argues the Old and New Testaments have been incorrectly entitled and should be referred to as the "The Old and New Covenants". In 1859 he published, "The Lord’s Day, the Day of the Lord", which rejects that there is any Biblical basis for keeping holy a Sabbath day. On this theme his daughter Mary published "Sunday and the Sabbath", which she translated from the French work by Louis Mellet. "Burnt-Offering" discusses the nature of the sacrifices made by Moses by providing a revised translation of the first three chapters of Leviticus.


57. John Linnell to Thomas More Palmer

Following the receipt of a theological essay on Judas from his grandson, Linnell replied offering comments and advice:

"I thank you for your essay on Judas which I think shows great industry & some sound observation also some unsound – and as it is my earnest desire to correct all unsoundness of perception, of principle, of motive & of conduct in myself and all with whom I have intercourse, I avail myself of this opportunity to make a few remarks on the essay in particular and on some matters relating to your future welfare suggested in some measure by the essay."

Thomas More had expressed a desire to enter the Church which Linnell strongly advised him not to do. In this letter he uses John Milton, who decided against entering the Church, as an exemplar writing that:

"Milton however went to the fountain head of truth & chose to take all the consequences of resisting the allurements of Church preferment – the great prizes, and had he not he never could have written so nobly so Divinely as he has written both in prose & rhyme. I believe it is not possible for any man in the trammels of superstition to do his best – and I therefore advise you to look to it for yourself & resisting all the influences of friends – separate yourself & judge from the study of the Divine Oracles alone what course you shd take & what you shd refrain from. God will give wisdom if asked with sincerity …"

In the event Thomas More died at the age of only nineteen in 1861, probably the same year that this letter was written. The diagnosis of the causes of his death has been lost. He had suffered from both rheumatic and scarlet fever which certainly weakened his health. His father, Samuel, had insisted he take up boxing, considered a gentleman’s sport, and this might also have been a contributory factor.


58. John Linnell: Envelope addressed to his daughter Hannah (Anny)

The wording on the envelope reads: Cardinal Annie, Papal State, via Mad Street. Religious differences were a source of conflict between Linnell and his son-in-law Samuel Palmer. Palmer was High Church, which Linnell equated with Roman Catholicism, and he was suspicious that his daughter Hannah was following her husband’s example.



With his move to Redhill in 1851 Linnell began to take a serious interest in writing poetry. Prior to this he had composed the odd verse but these seem to have been confined merely to family letters. Linnell now started to publish poems in a magazine entitled "The Bouquet". All contributors wrote under floral pseudonyms, Linnell being known as "Larkspur". The subjects of his poems were mainly religious themes, nature and family incidents.

59. Untitled poem by John Linnell dated 12th March 1864


In this short poem Linnell aptly summarises his views of Roman Catholicism and the role of priests in general. In a statement on the reverse John Linnell junior writes, " … J.L has put into concise verse-form a statement (of the truth) which he continually repeated in words, - expressing the same to every one he talked with where an opportunity occurred which he thought suitable for it."

Linnell’s main theological concern seems to have been the priesthood in the Christian Church. He briefly stated the theological basis for his belief in a letter to the Editor of the Times, a draft copy of which is contained in the Archive (MS3920):

"Christianity knows no such thing as human priesthood and to set it up is virtually to deny that "Christ has come as high priest of good things" – the Levitical priesthood was only typical of Christ’s priesthood and together with the rest of the ceremonial laws was only "until the seed (Christ) should come" see Gal. 3 and Heb. from Chap 2 to Chap X. To set up therefore a human priesthood now is to set up something in the place of Christ and so set up anti-Christ."

60. An Imitation of H. W. Longfellow by a short-fellow


This poem of Linnell’s was published in The Bouquet of 1855 and the style is in imitation of a section of Longfellow’s Evangeline. It is mainly an attack of the education system whereby schoolchildren learned by rote and is based on an actual family incident. While his children were at school, ten steps to a cottage at the entrance to Linnell’s home were removed to build a new driveway; on their return the children walked straight pass the cottage not recognising it without the steps.


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The Archive reveals Linnell's views on art in general and also his opinions of some of his own paintings.

Quotes: On Art

61. MS copy of John Linnell’s "Dialogue upon Art"

This dialogue was published in "The Bouquet", November 1855. Here Linnell emphasises the spiritual element of art:

Now I venture to assert that a picture may be as like Nature as possible to the minds of some people and may deceive the Eye and yet be worthless compared with others not professing or even aiming at that eye deceiving quality but having an emphasis of imitation upon those qualities of Nature which give us ideas of sublimity and beauty and those are higher or more refined principles of Art which regard the perceptions of those qualities of Nature, and teach how the ideas of beauty and sublimity may be best excited in the mind by a work of Art …

 The skill of imitation is wasted unless the representation teaches us some moral or spiritual truth. The business of The Art should be I think to create spiritual perceptions and all the powers of imitation, the Skill in Design, in Coloring and Expression – all are to be used to this end. The artist has indeed to deal with the senses but his object should be to reach the heart – the inner man through that medium.


Photograph of John Linnell's The Forest Road, 1852 (Retouched 1858)

Oil on canvas
National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside
(Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)

62. John Linnell to William Agnew (copy or draft), 16th July 1859

On "The Forest Road":

"I have worked upon it at different times ever since it was in the Paris Universal Exn and I have made it perhaps the most elaborate picture of the class & size that I have done. Indeed I kept the picture out of the market for some years on purpose to give it all the consideration and labour possible. You may safely therefore offer it as a picture which I consider as most complete."

63. John Linnell to William Agnew (copy or draft), 6th September 1859

This note gives the history of "The Forest Road". It was begun in 1852 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1853 and the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1855:

"I again took up The Forest Rd picture & worked upon it whenever I saw that I cd. improve it until the beginning of this year when I considered it as complete as I cd. make it & placed it in my family living room where I had many offers for it at more than my actual price for the size. But as you were the first to come to my terms this picture was sold to you with every possible assurance on my part that no pains have been spared by me to make it the best picture of the class that I can produce."

Photograph of John Linnell's painting Wheat, 1860

Oil on canvas
94.2 x 140.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (Purchased, 1888)

The painting can be viewed at the National Gallery of Victoria

64. John Linnell to William Agnew (copy or draft), 15th August 1860

On "Wheat":

"I hope you are aware that I consider my picture of ‘Wheat’ as the most artistic picture I have done. I mean by artistic qualities which it takes the education of an artist fully to appreciate & a poetic perception to enjoy. I do not say my picture has much of this quality but more in my estimation than any other that I remember to have done except perhaps the Sheepfold of last year which I think as good."

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The Archive provides much valuable information on the materials used by Linnell and others.

Quotes: The Palmers and Art Materials

65. John Linnell to his Father, James, 27th July 1815

Receiving various commissions whilst visiting Newbury, John Linnell wrote to his Father requesting that he send various materials


Quote: On Varnish

66. Journal entry for 14th May 1847 – Making Varnish

Linnell originally purchased the oil-copal varnish he used for his paintings. However, he was not satisfied with the quality and after researching the process, he decided to make his own. This was done initially on 14th May 1847 after two iron furnaces were constructed in his garden. The result proved to be unsatisfactory as there appears to have been impurities in the linseed oil used and the process was repeated the following month - this time successfully. John Linnell used the varnish he produced on this occasion for the rest of his life. In later years problems developed with his varnish and this may at least in part have been because he kept it too long. Thus, for instance, the dealer E. F. White wrote on 16th April 1876:

"I regret to tell you that 3 out of four pictures … are spotting like the others. It is the varnish which seems to change color and separate in large spots or masses … the color is that of dark copal."

Journal for Sept. 1841-Dec. 1848

67. John Linnell to John Stewart (copy) 12th November 1963

In response to an inquiry from John Stewart, Linnell provided a detailed account on making varnish.

68. Account of James Newman (Artists Colourman) to John Linnell, 16th September 1825

69. Account of Thomas Brown (Colourman to Artists) to John Linnell, 8th September 1846

This account contains a comment on different whites available: "We know no other white to compete with the Cremnitz for colour, but we have Nottingham White, which has more body, but is not so good a colour."

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Linnell would frequently amend his own paintings according to the wishes of his clients. When requested to do so, he was also prepared to amend the work of other artists.


70. John Linnell’s Cash Book for the years 1813-1822

The entry for 5th July 1815 shows Linnell receiving payment of £3.3.0 for work on a Constable painting:

"Of Mr. Robson – for painting a new sky to a picture by Mr. Constable belonging to Mr. Olnut of Clapham"

The painting concerned is "Ploughing Scene in Suffolk (A Summerland)", 1814 and it was John Allnut of Clapham who commissioned Linnell to paint the new sky. He later regretted this since in his opinion the new sky, "though extremely beautiful, did not harmonise with the other parts of the picture." He asked Constable to restore the painting but Constable painted him a new version of it, keeping the amended copy. It appears likely that Constable removed Linnell’s sky and at a later date after Constable’s death, a third party restored the painting adding a new sky. The painting has now been restored with the original Constable sky.


71. Memorandum: John Varley to John Linnell, 20th March 1820

The memorandum concerns Varley’s painting "The Burial of Saul" to which Linnell provided "assistance in the painting of the figures &c." It became a regular practice for Varley to request Linnell to add figures to his paintings. Thus two sample entries in Linnell’s journal for November 1819 read:

Wed 10 … Painted from 12 o’clock till dusk on Mr. Varley’s small picture of Windsor
Thursday 11 Began painting figures & c. in Mr. Varley’s picture of Battersea …


Linnell and William Etty

On a number of occasions Linnell was asked to supply backgrounds to figure studies by Etty. Linnell was happy to oblige. Sometimes it went beyond this. On one occasion an Etty nude figure was cut out from a landscape Linnell had previously added and a new blank piece of canvas added for Linnell to paint over. This was sent to Linnell by the art dealer E. F. White. Linnell records in his journal for June 1872, " …sketched two figures & dog on the canvas where Etty’s female nude had been cut out & plain canvas supplied. White sent it for me to put figures in l[andscape] for which I required £200 – prepaid …"

Sometimes Etty’s females nudes were too daring for Victorian sensibilities as can be seen from the following requests.

72. J. H. Chance to John Linnell, 5th April 1861

In 1861 J. H. Chance, Linnell’s nephew, purchased an Etty nude to which Linnell had previously added a landscape. However, he was unhappy about the nude:

" … but feeling that the Etty is not quite the thing to hang up as it is, do you think for 10 gs you could put a bit of drapery and a couple of dogs to make the newd figure a Diana, so covering part of the figure …"

73. A. B. Anderson to John Linnell, 28th May 1869

A. B. Anderson made a similar request to Linnell, also having purchased an Etty nude with a Linnell background:

"The figure and landscape are both perfection, but the semi-nude figure is too broad for my house. What would you advise me to have done to it? Could not something be introduced into the foreground, in part concealing the figure, or could not the figure be further draped? It would not be improper, I presume, to paint out the figure, & substitute cattle & sheep?"


74. John Linnell to E. F White (draft or copy), 13th August 1875

As Samuel Palmer’s paintings did not sell as well as his Linnell’s, dealers sometimes approached Linnell to work on them. Thus the dealer Lebbeus Colls wrote to Linnell on 27th February 1852 stating he had purchased, "a small picture painted by Mr. Palmer & the figures entirely by yourself, the landscape also touched upon by you, will you make it your own by painting over it, turning into something valuable for me …"

Linnell's letter to E. F. White relates to "The Farm" painted by Palmer in 1834 and which Linnell had also worked on the following year. In 1875 the dealer E. F. White requested that Linnell work on it again. Having secured Palmer’s agreement, Linnell agreed to this for a fee of £50. His letter to White states that the painting is, "now to be a joint production by Samuel Palmer & John Linnell Sen."

75. John Linnell to James Muirhead (copy or draft), 16th July 1873

In his journal for 1st July 1873, Linnell records the visit of two art dealers with a request to work on a Constable painting:

"Mr. Muirhead & Mr. Brown bo[ugh]t picture said to be by Constable & about which a law suit was threatened – agreed at the earnest salutation of B & M to put some sheep into the picture & make it a Constable & Linnell – recd draft for £100 – to be done in a fortnight."

Having completed the work, Linnell wrote to Muirhead with a sketch:

"…in order to make it clear where my work begins & ends. I have indicated the Constable by black ink and my work by red chalk"


76. Ada Pennell to John Linnell, 31st July, 1874

"I have forwarded to you this day "carriage paid" two very fine sketches by David Cox which were purchased at his sale & I wish to know if you will kindly oblige me by sketching a figure into the one with the winding stream, & into the other ‘a landscape’ a few sheep …"

Linnell acceded to this request and the result greatly pleased Mrs. Pennell: "Many thanks for the pictures received last ev[enin]g – they do not only come up to my expectation but far surpass them. They are very beautiful …" (14th August 1874)


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From the late 1840’s Linnell abandoned portraiture in favour of landscapes. His method of selling his work also changed – in the last decades he sold his work primarily to art dealers rather than directly to the individual collectors. There was also a change of style. His early works are finely finished with minutely observed detail. Later works are characterised by a freedom of brushwork such as unconnected strokes, with objects, especially in the foreground, often merely being suggested. This change in style was contrary to the prevailing trend and led to much adverse criticism. His pictures were described as being unfinished, blotty and woolly. However, this seems to have had little impact on his success at the time – his works were in high demand throughout his life. Indeed the high prices his works commanded led to forgeries being made.

Photograph of John Linnell's Sunset over a Moorland Landscape

Oil on panel, 213 x 256 mm (PD.7-1950)

This painting is on display on the balcony of Gallery III. It is typical of Linnell’s paintings of the early 1850’s. The bold brush strokes are in contrast to early works. The atmospheric sky has a visionary quality.

Photograph of John Linnell's Self-portrait, circa 1860

Oil on canvas
The National Portrait Gallery

This can be viewed at the National Portrait Gallery

Photograph of John Linnell in his 80’s

Original photograph in a private collection

77. G. Hawksworth to John Linnell, 12th August 1850

G. Hawksworth was Joseph Gillot’s secretary. Gillot acquired a fortune through the manufacture of steel pen nibs and was a major art collector. He met Linnell in 1847 and that year gave him commissions worth over £5000. The letter was written in respect of "David and the Lion", part of a £1000 commission given to Linnell in 1850. Here he gives his requirements:

"he would convey to you his earnest wishes that the picture be worked up to that point of excellence in detail and rich glowing effect of colouring in the foreground for which some of your works are distinguished. He means this in contradistinction to that quality of generalizing "which leaves a spectator occasionally in doubt of what certain objects as animals (sheep) tree roots etc. are really intended for"! I think you will understand from this remark his desire that every portion of the work be well defined and worked up to a high state of finish, compatible with due breadth of effect in the picture as a whole."

No further commissions followed so it appears Gillot was not satisfied with the result.

78. Charles Wass to John Linnell, 17th December 1855

The dealer Charles Wass was unhappy about one of his pictures and returned it for a second time. He complained that in one area of the foreground, "the touches are so unconnected that it is impossible to say what your intentions are, whether bank or figures"

79. E. F. White to John Linnell, 9th April 1872

The London art dealer, Edward Fox White handled the majority of Linnell’s paintings during the period 1871 to 1876. Although frequently requesting more finish, he was a great champion of Linnell’s works. In a letter dated 4th September 1872, he wrote to Linnell, "… I want to nullify Agnews condemnation of your present work which he declares careless and blotty". In the P.S. of the letter displayed he lavishly praises "The Ford" exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1872. Similarly in a letter dated 5th August 1874 he praises "Harvest Home" writing, "the subtle gradations & light floating quality all about the middle & upper part of sky the most perfect thing I have ever seen in any picture."

80. John Linnell to E. F. White (copy or draft), 16th April 1876

This letter shows Linnell’s failing health towards the end of his life; he writes, "Rheumatism or Neuralgia or pain in my legs chains me to the House." His eyesight had also been failing and in 1871 he had requested a pair of glasses from Cornelius Varley.

81. Hannah Palmer to Alfred Herbert Palmer, 31st January 1882

Here Hannah gives an account of Linnell’s funeral:

"All the local papers gave an account of the funeral. The church yard was crowded, & the Chapel so much so, that the doors had to be locked at last. Private carriages of neighbours & friends followed & shops were shut. Many came from London to attend…"

The letter also contains a reference to Samuel Palmer who had died the previous year: "I have missed your dear Father more than ever lately. Not being very well made me low spirited, & vexing about the things of this life is so wrong – for we are told not to do it …"

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Quote: A Road Accident and its legal and medical consequences


William Palmer to John Linnell, 19th March 1839

William Palmer wrote to John Linnell to advise him of a problem in letting Samuel Palmer’s property while he was in Italy:

"Next door (No.5) 1st floor is occupied by females of a bad discription who are constantly showing themselves from the windows (which are continually open) and attracting the notice of the passers by with the language and actions which cannot be mistaken and the frequent and cursory visits of men at all hours leave no room to doubt of their being prostitutes. This of course will be a serious drawback to respectable people who might otherwise like to lodge at Samuels house, as it is going on at all hours."

In another letter to John Linnell dated 25th February 1839 providing accounts for Samuel’s property, William Palmer writes of one tenant, "dismissed on account of finding her to be a kept woman" (MS3443-2000)



Food Scares

Samuel Palmer to his son, Alfred Herbert Palmer, 9th March 1881

"In Birmingham and Manchester the other day it is said that dead horses & diseased animals were sold in tins as Australian beef."



Elections in Reigate

Various samples of election literature covering the period 1856-1858 survive in the Archive revealing strong passions amongst candidates in Linnell’s Reigate constituency. For example in an 1856 election leaflet, H. M. Parratt declares of a rival:

"What a sad commentary upon the weakness of human nature does Mr. Hackblock’s position present! Who could have imagined that any man, much less one who lives for popular favour, should by his own acts, in a few short months, have fallen from such a height of respectability to such a depth of degradation".

Mr. Hackblock had earlier complained of having received from Col. Parratt, "a letter such as no Gentleman would, and few men could be found to write …"

In the 1858 election campaign Frederic Doulton complained he had, "been exposed to attacks, of which the falsehood and scurrilous malignity has been rarely exceeded." On the other hand John Linnell, wrote to Doulton withdrawing his initial support, "having found by unquestionable evidence that your statements respecting Mr. Wilkinson … are altogether at variance with facts, I am compelled to give up all thought of voting in your favour …" John Linnell declared his support for W. A. Wilkinson and his letter to Doulton was published in an election leaflet of Wilkinson’s.

Quote: Election Corruption

87. Proposed address to be signed by leading reformers, 1857

A committee campaigning for Parliamentary reform complains of the current state of Parliament: "The existing machinery for the constitutional expression of public opinion is inadequate, and to a large extent, untrustworthy. The constituent body is needlessly restricted. Considerable portions of it are exposed to the disturbing action of illicit influences. A large majority of members is returned by a small minority of Electors."

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Quote: A Strange Case of Bartering

Accounts relating to Robert Westall

The archive contains a small collection of miscellaneous accounts and letters found in the painting box of Robert Westall

88. Account from the Green Dragon, 12th August 1806
Account from D. Prichard, Bethgelart Hotel, c1805
90. Laundry account, 21st July 1806


Quote: Eating Out in Paris and Rome

91. Account from Charles Taylor to John Linnell, 1828

In 1828 the Linnell family moved from Collins Farm, Hampstead to a rented property at 26 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater. As part of the lease John Linnell negotiated, it was agreed that he would spend £40 on the garden. This account, including 1s 9d for ½ a days labour, represents some of the expenditure. The items mainly relate to fruits and herbs. Linnell was very practical. He would make his own bread, including grinding his own flour; he also brewed his own beer.

92. Receipt from Cornelius Varley to John Linnell, 1826

Cornelius Varley invented the graphic telescope. By reflecting an object or vista on to drawing paper, artists could use it to achieve greater accuracy. Cornelius Varley used it for his own drawings and Linnell also used one on occasions in early life.

An example can be seen at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford

93. John Linnell to Count Guicciardini (copy or draft),

27th December 1861

Linnell maintained a good wine cellar and was keen to obtain the best wines. In this letter he writes to Count Guicciardini of Florence to request his assistance to, "obtain some best wine of Italy" since "I have no hope of obtaining any such from wine merchants here and if I could their price is so exorbitant that I find it out of my reach."

94. Account of Spencer & Budden to John Linnell, 18th January 1859

An typical example of one of John Linnell’s wine bills. This one includes a very fine bottle of old port priced 5s 3d and 23 gallons of finest Marsala for £16.10.0.

95. William Wethered to John Linnell, 6th December 1862

Due to his success John Linnell was able to raise the prices he charged for his works throughout his life. Here the art dealer William Wethered complains of his prices, with a comparison to Turner:

"When I had transactions with the late Turner his prices to me were 200 guineas each for Venetian subjects, and a like sum for English landscapes the size of the former works was 2 feet [by] 3 feet and the latter 3 feet by 4 feet, so that when I am asked 200gs. for yours of 14 inches by 10 I naturally take alarm at the price."

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John Varley

John Varley was constantly in debt in later life. At the time of his death a list of creditors contained in the Archive records his debts as £4,140.2.4 (MS2793-2000)

Quote: On Varley and his Debts

96. John Varley to John Linnell (undated)


A letter written just after he had been arrested for debt, asking for assistance from Linnell


97-99. Mrs. Varley to John Linnell (undated)


Three begging letters requesting small amounts of money from Linnell

MS2804-2000, MS2809-2000, MS2810-2000


100. Pawn Ticket, 1818

Issued by Notley and Lawton for chairs valued at £1.15.0 with an interest charge of 5s 3d., the ticket has been linked to John Linnell’s father, James. James Linnell did on occasions have to borrow money from his son.


101. William Palmer to his brother, Samuel, November 1839, of which this is a copy dated 14th December 1839


This copy was made by John Linnell. William Palmer had some of Samuel Palmer’s paintings in safe-keeping while Samuel was in Italy. In the letter William confesses to Samuel that he has pawned his pictures ("having through illness and other unlooked for exigencies been placed in circumstances of perplexity and distress") and encloses the ticket for them. He has signed the letter "William Johnson" and Linnell has added a comment, "Why the name is not signed William Palmer may be guessed".

102. Samuel Palmer – draft note for letter to John Linnell


Dated by Raymond Lister as probably June 1857, this appears to be a draft note in preparation for a subsequent letter to Linnell lamenting his financial position (103).


103. Samuel Palmer to John Linnell

Dated by Raymond Lister as probably June 1857, Palmer here details his financial situation:

"… It is in household expenses that the money principally goes and it really is disheartening for sovereigns melt away by magic ... We never give dinners – scarcely ever have friends to tea and then only in the way of business – when it is absolutely necessary not to disoblige important connexions - have no droppers in – so that in fact we live more economically in proportion than we did in Grove St. Of course this strictness is not pleasant …"


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Linnell was in the habit of reusing paper, often writing his draft/copy letters on the backs of miscellaneous items he had received. Thus, in some cases, interesting ephemera has survived by chance illustrating aspects of life at that time. On the other hand Thomas Palmer, his father-in-law, kept records of a few notices and other items which must have amused him. He seems to have been particularly interested in unorthodox spellings. Also included in his papers are two cures – one for coughs and the other for stones.

105. Advertisement for Dancing, Deportment & Exercises, 1869

Miss Leonora Geary’s advertisement for dancing, deportment and her celebrated Indian Sceptre (or "Mugdar") exercises (together with medical testimonials) for "the Higher Classes". Linnell has written a draft/copy letter to Thomas Agnew on the reverse.

106. Playbill for the Assembly Rooms, Redhill, October 1862

Joseph Michael Hartz (1836-1903) was a distinguished conjuror. To differ from others he determined that all his paraphernalia should be made of glass. He toured in Britain, Europe and America, performing before royalty in a number of countries. Linnell has written a letter on the reverse of the playbill – the "P.S." of which can be seen along the edge of the playbill.

Before his move from London to Redhill, Linnell records various trips to the theatre in his journals, for example:

Friday 7th [July 1820] … To Drury Lane Theatre to meet Lady Torrens in Prince Leopold’s Box. Kean in Othello.

Tuesday 27 [March 1821] … to the Theatre Drury Lane with Mr Blake …

 104. Fundraising sheet issued by National Society for the Protection of Young Girls

The Society boasts that since its establishment in 1835, "it has successfully opposed vice in a variety of ways; has prevented many from becoming depraved; and saved nearly 1000 Young Girls from ruin."

107. Curious specimen of orthography


From the papers of Thomas Palmer (1762-1840)


108. Notice seen in window of a cottage near Plymstock


From the papers of Thomas Palmer (1762-1840)


109. A cure for a coughs


From the papers of Thomas Palmer (1762-1840)


110. A cure for stones


From the papers of Thomas Palmer (1762-1840)


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