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You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeeWeb ExhibitionsHarvey-LeeSamuel Palmer Intro Harvey-LeeThe Skylark

Samuel Palmer  
(Newington, south London 1805 – 1881 Redhill, near Reigate, Surrey)

The Skylark

The Skylark | Samuel Palmer | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee

The Skylark
Alexander 2 vii/viii, Lister 2 vii/viii
120 x 98 mm (bevelled plate); 99 x 74 mm (image); 364 x 268 mm (sheet)

Etching 1850. The plate signed. Published state, as plate 17 in Etchings for the Art Union of London by the Etching Club, 1857, edition of 500, the only issue. With the plate number and Palmer’s name added in the lower plate border. On laid india paper. Occasional foxing in the wide margins of the wove support sheet.  The sheet gilt-edged on three sides.


The Skylark
120 x 98 mm (plate); 99 x 74 mm (image); 245 x 192 mm (sheet)

A duplicate impression (not illustrated). As above, but the sheet trimmed in the margins. A pale fox mark in the right plate border, other pale scattered foxing in the margins away from the plate.


The Skylark
120 x 98 mm (bevelled plate); 99 x 74 mm (image); 122 x 98 mm (sheet)

Another impression (not illustrated). As above, but trimmed to the platemark. Surface problems verso, some unevenness and adhering paper, not affecting the obverse.


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Additional Information about the Print

Palmer’s enthusiasm for etching having been awakened by his membership of the Etching Club, he would produce three more plates in 1850.

In The Skylark, the first of these and though only his second attempt in the medium, he established his personal etching style, recapturing the vision of the Shoreham years. The critic F G Stephens wrote of it later in The Portfolio in 1872

The refined spirit of this little gem of art and poetry baffle words of description. Ineffable is the way in which the rays of the sun interpose between us and the ribbed clouds of fugitive night, giving an idea of palpitation in perfect accord with the outpouring of the voice of the bird, and the awakening landscape.

The subject is based on a Shoreham drawing of c1832, now in the National Museum of Wales, which in 1843 Palmer had already taken up again for a small oil panel. It reflects lines from Milton’s L’Allegro

To hear the lark begin his flight,
And singing startle the dull night,
From his watch-tower in the skies,
Till the dappled dawn doth rise.

The development of the etched image was painstaking, the plate going through at least 6 states before publication, the composition lengthened, a tree introduced, a branch extended, the sky re-etched etc.

In Life & Letters A H Palmer records his father’s verbatum account of his problems with the sky

“I remember …spending a whole day in nearly burnishing out …[the] sky that was overbitten. The perverse acid would bite skies and nothing else..."

and comments himself 

what I so much admire in it [is] the delicate upward flush of early dawn over thin vaporous cloud, … the result of the day's elbow-grease directed, not by knowledge of any etching technicality, but by knowledge of one of the most beautiful effects in nature.

It received its title of ‘The Skylark’ only in 1857, for publication; previously Palmer referred to it as “Dawn” though in 1850 the Etching Club minutes referred to it simply as The Lark when it was initially chosen for publication.