Sunday, 22 February 2009

Palmer Country

Yesterday - a gloriously sunny one, with that sharp ultraclear PreRaphaelite light of early spring - I went walking in Kent with my son. Starting from the beautifully sited, unspoilt village church where, in May, he is getting married (yes, a rare intrusion of family life into the blog), we walked the high ground, with wide far views over the Weald in one direction and, in the other, as far as (amazingly) Epping Forest. Then down into the Darent valley, Samuel Palmer's Valley of Vision - from Lullingstone, where he drew and painted the extraordinary ancient oaks - down along the river to Shoreham, where he lived. Close to London and much visited though it is, the Darent valley, cosily wooded, flanked by rolling hills, remains wonderfully unspoilt, and Shoreham is one of those perfect Kentish villages, right down to the picturesque old pub beside the church. Though neither of us could stand upright beneath its sagging ceilings, we lunched there, before climbing back out of the valley and looping round to return to where we started.
In Shoreham, Samuel Palmer lived initially in a hovel he christened Rat Abbey, before moving in with his father and many comers and goers - including Blake and his fellow Ancients - in a handsome Queen Anne house which is still standing smartly on its enviable riverside plot. As well as painting the extraordinary works that were eventually, long after his death, to bring him fame, Palmer wrote voluminously. He was constantly examining and questioning himself, describing his depressions and exaltations, his frequent religious experiences (divine and diabolical), rhapsodising and lamenting, and all the while feeling his way, with constant self-criticism and much rumination, in his art. Here's one reflection among very, very many:
'Universal nature wears a lovely gentleness of mild attraction; but the leafy lightness, the thousand repetitions of little forms [fractals?!], which are part of its own generic perfection; and who would wish them but what they are? - seem hard to be reconclied with the unwinning severity, the awfulness, the ponderous globosity of Art.'
Ponderous globosity - a lovely phrase...
We saw disappointingly little in the way of wildlife on this walk - partly perhaps because we seemed always to be walking into dazzling sun - but this morning, back in the suburban demiparadise, I saw, for the first time in my life, two kingfishers together. They were perched quite high in the same tree, clearly not in place for fishing. I suspect courtship was on their minds, and they were waiting for me to go away. Which I did.


  1. Once again Nige, I followed along a few paces behind breathing in the smell of damp leaves. I vaguely remember Shoreham from the mid sixties, Frau malty lived for a while in Bromley and we were married there, used to spend the odd Saturday night in Shorehams pubs, wedding in the air ? busy time ahead then.
    This is what one of journalisms lesser ranks thinks of Victorian art, from today's ST, Gill's offering.
    "Victorian painting is art for people who mistrust art unless it is 90% handicraft"
    The statement of a person who spends his life in a darkened room in front of a TFT screen.
    On a lighter note, trouble down t'pong works

  2. Lovely. And Malty, I too disdain the person who put down Victorian paintings. I LOVE the Victorian realists, and the Pre-Raphs, and so on. One of my fave paintings, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, remains "Joan of Arc," by Bastien-Lepage. Only a Victorian could have painted her that way, like a character in a double-decker novel....

  3. Susan, your next UK visit should include a visit to Northumberlands Wallington hall. The owner of the day, Lady Trevelyan "had 'em up for the weekend" quite often, the Pre Raphs that is. To pay for their b&b they used to paint, on the walls of the main hall, all good stuff. The Trevellyans were Victorian oligarchs, the house also has the desk at which George Macaulay wrote his History of England.

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