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

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

The Bellman

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

The Bellman

Alexander 11 v/vii, Lister 11 v/vii
190 x 251 mm (plate); 167 x 236 mm (image); 215 x 282 mm (sheet)

Etching, 1879. The plate signed and dated. First published state, 1879, one of 60 de-luxe pencil-signed impressions, with an etched Remarque of a branch, issued by the Fine Art Society, before their lettered edition. On laid paper, overall in very good condition. A short repaired tear at the right sheet edge and a few tiny foxmarks in the lower margin. An unidentified collector’s mark verso blue initials W F M JR. and another (a variant of the first?)


The Bellman

Alexander 11 vii/vii, Lister 11 vii/vii
190 x 251 mm (plate); 167 x 236 mm (image); 286 x 403 mm (sheet)

A Trio* impression, the F.A.S. lettering of the 6th state removed (not illustrated). With the engraved triangle added. Initialled in pencil by Short, Hardie and Griggs. Final issue before cancellation of the plate. Edition of 60, published by the Cotswold Gallery 1926. On antique laid paper with a Strasbourg Bend watermark.  Ex collection: Kenneth Guichard


* See Palmer’s Legacy, introduction to the Goldsmiths’ School Etchers.

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Additional Information about the Print

The collector Leonard Rowe Valpy (Ruskin’s solicitor), who became acquainted with Palmer in 1863 when he bought one of the artist’s works in the Winter exhibition of the Old Water-Colour Society, was responsible for the commission that would occupy the artist for the rest of his life. Valpy left the choice of theme to Palmer, specifying only something that chimed with the artist’s “inner sympathies”.

In 1864 he agreed to Palmer’s suggestion of a series of watercolours to illustrate Milton’s L’Allegro and Il Penseroso. Palmer exhibited three of the eventual series of eight finished watercolours at the Old Water-Colour Society in 1868, including The Lonely Tower. The remaining five appeared intermittently, between 1870 and 1881. The Bellman was only exhibited in 1882, after Palmer’s death, because he had not considered it quite finished. It was while carrying out small preparatory watercolours for the intended full scale paintings that as early as 1864 Palmer was considering a related series of etchings. He wrote to Valpy in October that year

The Etching dream came over me in this way. I am making my working sketches a quarter of the size of the drawings, and was surprised and not displeased to notice the variety – the difference of each from all the rest. I saw within a set of highly-finished etchings the size of Turner’s Liber Studiorum; and as finished as my moonlight with the cypresses; a set making a book – a compact block of work which I would fain hope might live when I am with the fallen leaves.

However, it was not till 1879, that Palmer turned to etching the Milton subjects, of which only two plates were achieved, The Bellman, published by the Fine Art Society that year and The Lonely Tower which appeared in the Etching Club’s Twenty-one Etchings in 1880, a final contribution to a Club publication in the penultimate year of his life.

The Bellman, etched before the full scale watercolour was completed, is close to the preparatory watercolour sketch (now in the Bernard Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford) and relates to lines referring to the close of day from Milton’s Il Penseroso

Or the bellman’s drousie charm
To bless the dores from nightly harm

The Bellman is literally a return to the Shoreham period, for the village depicted is based on memories of the real Shoreham, though set in a mountainous landscape recalled from travels in Italy, Devon or Wales.

Palmer wrote to Hamerton on the 4 August 1879

I am very glad that you like my Bellman. . . . It is a breaking out of village-fever long after contact - a dream of that genuine village where I mused away some of my best years …