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You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeeWeb ExhibitionsHarvey-LeeSamuel Palmer Intro Harvey-LeeThe Morning of Life

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

The Morning of Life

The Morning of Life | Samuel Palmer | Etching | Elizabeth Harvey-Lee

The Morning of Life
Alexander 10 vi/vi, Lister 10 vii/vii
146 x 215 mm (plate)
136 x 229 mm (image)
265 x  366 mm (sheet)

Etching and drypoint, 1860/61-1872. The plate signed. Final state, as published as plate 13 in Etchings for the Art Union of London by the Etching Club, 1872, with the associated lettering. Edition of 450, printed by Frederick Goulding with retroussage; the only issue. A rich impression on white laid india paper. The edges of the wove support sheet gilt.


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Additional Information about the Print

Palmer began this plate as a subject taken from Virgil’s Aeneid, ‘Hercules & Cacus’. When this proved unsatisfactory (I could no-how clip my poodle into lion shape, as Palmer expressed it in a letter to Hamerton in 1872 ) he altered the figures completely and transformed it into the present Virgilian idyll, with sheep washing and a conversation over apples. He also extended the etched area on all four sides, resulting in his only print with narrow plate borders. Palmer wrote to his printer in 1871 instructing him to erase the title Hercules and Cacus from the plate, the” true title” being  A Leafy Dell. Palmer also referred to it as Sheep-washing and Work and Gossip before finally settling on the published version, The morning of life.

Not only the theme but the practice gave Palmer great difficulties. The copper plate was supplied by the Etching Club and had already been used for a previous etching and burnished clean for re-use before Palmer himself was burnishing it again to change his composition. A H Palmer in The Life … (page 99) quotes his father on some of the problems as he worked towards the finished image of the “wretched plate [which had] bent up like an earwig disturbed in an egg-plum."

I spent several days working and proving in London in a ghastly frame of mind, owing, for once, not to my own clumsiness, but to the detestability, both as to thinness and quality, of the old, scraped, Club copper on which  [my etching] was done. I gave myself up for lost on Saturday at 5.30, but, by a desperate perseverance, had singed the last neck of the hydra by 6.15, and hope to send you soon, one of the very best impressions.

The published edition was the first printed by Goulding, advocate of retroussage, for the Etching Club and Palmer was taken aback by the dramatic printing, very different in effect to the clean-wiped plates of the previous Club printers Gad & Keningale. None the less the following year, 1873, when he acquired his private press, Palmer would engage Goulding to teach his son Herbert to print. Goulding demonstrated retroussage and A H Palmer used the method, which he calls ‘artistic printing’ for subsequent Palmer proofs.