Palmer’s masterful brilliance on show in Visible Poetry




19th century artist Samuel Palmer’s entire prints form a new show, Visible Poetry, says Orlagh Ní Arrachtáin.

THE complete etchings of the 19th century English painter Samuel Palmer are showing at the Crawford Art Gallery under the title ‘Visible Poetry’. The exhibition, curated by Anne Boddaert and Edward Twohig, is until June 14. On loan from the collection of Corkman Twohig, Palmer’s 13 etchings, and four compositions completed by his son, Alfred Herbert Palmer, are being shown together for the first time.

Work of artists who influenced Palmer, such as Albrecht Durer, JMW Turner, John Ruskin, Francis Seymour Haden and Irish painter Francis Danby, will also be shown, as, in turn, will work by 20th century artists influenced in the pastoral tradition by Palmer, such as Frank Short, Paul Drury, Robin Tanner, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Victor Pasmore.

Palmer lived from 1805 to 1881 and is a leading figure of English Romanticism. His work evolved from landscape painting to engraving and, ultimately, to the etchings that are the main body of this exhibition. Palmer knew some of the leading figures in art and literature, and collaborated with Charles Dickens, illustrating the author’s travelogue, ‘Pictures from Italy’, 1846, with wood engravings.

Along with fellow artists Edward Calvert and George Richmond, Palmer was a member of the artistic brotherhood, The (Shoreham) Ancients. Formed during the 1820s, the group comprised young artists who resisted modern art and affiliated with the classical world, adhering to the motto ‘poetry and sentiment’. The ‘Ancients’ championed the work of painter, poet and printmaker, William Blake (born in 1757), who was then disregarded by the art establishment.

Blake’s work often depicted his esoteric beliefs, and his woodcuts illustrating Virgil’s Eclogues were described by Palmer as “models of the equisitest pitch of intense poetry”. Palmer’s own interpretations of Virgil’s Eclogues, completed by his son, are included in ‘Visible Poetry’.

For Edward Twohig, art collecting is a labour of love. As a boy, he began collecting coins and stamps and purchased ‘St Eustace’, by German Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer, when he was 22. “This was a significant personal milestone and a bold one. It set the pattern. I completed my Samuel Palmer collection in 2013, after a 25-year quest,” Twohig says.

Tracing his interest in Palmer, and in etching, to his formative years in Cork, Twohig describes an “attraction to the endless beauty of line”. He completed his undergraduate studies at The Crawford College of Art, where this attraction to line was fostered, and he won a scholarship to study printmaking at the Chelsea College of Art.

Twohig describes with passion the pleasure of printmaking and the joy of examining the work of others. “The alchemy in creating an etching is a wonderment, as is the ‘moment of truth’ after the copper or zinc metal plate is printed and an impression is transferred onto paper — this delight has not diminished,” Twohig says.

Twohig’s exuberance is palpable. He notes the minute differences between plates, cataloguing the variances and meticulously examining any modifications, advising that ‘The Early Ploughman’, of which there are two states featured in Visible Poetry, exhibits 72 changes between each state. There is much to be observed among Palmer’s exhaustive detail. His first night etching, ‘Christmas 1850’, demonstrates an enchanting interplay between the lamplight from the cottage and the moonlight.

The endurance of Palmer’s pastoral influence remains evident in the work of Paul Drury, with ‘September 1928’ exhibiting intricate natural detail. Also featured is the work of Francis Seymour Haden, who tutored Samuel’s son, Alfred Herbert Palmer, in printmaking.

Contrasting with the realism of Palmer’s work is the thread-like, embroidered quality of Frank Brangwyn’s ‘Cornfield’. Said to have been influenced by the retrospective of Palmer’s work held in London in 1926, Robin Tanner’s ‘Martin’s Hovel’ is a pastoral scene dissected by the rays of the sun.

The work of a third Palmer is included in Visible Poetry — Garrick Palmer, who is no relation to Samuel. His ‘Stormy Landscape’ wood engraving is reminiscent of a stained glass demarked by slender trees into distinct areas.

Of the exhibition, Twohig says that “showing the entire oeuvre of one man’s incredible printmaking career on one wall greatly appealed to me, especially in such a beautiful and interesting space as the room they are currently on display in at the Crawford. The British Museum, and The Ashmolean in Oxford, are the only other places that hold the complete etchings of Samuel Palmer, so it is no small achievement.

“My grandparents lived within a stone’s throw of The Crawford Art Gallery, and so this emotional link means much to me, too.”

In sharing his impressive collection with visitors to the Crawford, Twohig fulfils a desire to repay Cork, and its artistic institutions, for fostering his own artistic development.

‘Visible Poetry’ presents a rare opportunity to view the collected work of Samuel Palmer, an artist who, says Twohig, has influenced many of today’s most recognisable names in printmaking.

“Artists as varied as Lucian Freud, Patrick Caulfield, Julian Trevelyan and Chris Ploughman all collected Samuel Palmer’s etchings. Contemporary printmakers, Norman Ackroyd and Jason Hicklin openly acknowledge Palmer’s influence. Palmer’s techniques, as much as his world, are timeless, as the visitor who views them will see. Artists, art lovers and non-artists can each gain something from this exhibition,” Twohig says.

* Until June 14

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