Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seeing Eye to Eye with Artist Samuel Palmer, c. 1824

Thursday, February 24, 2011
Susan reporting:

Because Loretta and I write books that are set in the historical past, we're always looking for ways to make that past real – not just for our readers, but for ourselves, too. Sometimes it's a little thing (a silver nutmeg grater) or a great big thing (a coaching map.) Sometimes it's a daguerrotype or a fashion print that cuts through the centuries.

And sometimes it's a portrait, like this extraordinary self-portrait, left, of English artist Samuel Palmer (1805-1881.) Palmer is considered one of the most important 19th c. British romantic painters. The vibrant colors of many of his landscapes are appealingly fresh, and he shares an other-worldly quality with his good friend William Blake. See here for more about Palmer, and here for a slideshow of his work.

But when I recently came across this picture, I didn't know much about Palmer's life, or his vaunted place in British painting, either. Instead I responded to it simply as a face – and what a face it is! Self-portraits are often the most revealing of portraits, and this one is almost shockingly modern. There's not a hint of artful flattery here, and none of the beautiful, glossy, self-content here that beams from the contemporary portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

With his carefully tied cravat and his tousled hair, this young man already appears weary of the world. His gaze is so direct and revealing that it almost looks like a contemporary mug-shot, and with all of a police camera's honesty, too. If there's ever a face that makes a direct connection to late Regency/early Victorian England, then this is it. He's a character just begging for a writer to claim him and bring him to life.

Many thanks to D.C. Read for sharing this portrait and inspiring this post with his own blog on self-portraits.


Above: Self-Portrait by Samuel Palmer, c. 1824-25, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

6 comments:

Jessica said...

What a sad face, so full of secrets for a young man! I hope you do write a story about him.

susan.green said...

Ladies,
Thank you so much for the work you put into this blog, and for bringing forth treasures like this. It's a little heartbreak not to be able to experience the world that's passed, but how wonderful to envision this man (with that hair cut and necktie and jacket) trudging along the streets of 19th century London.

Danielle Thorne said...

This is hands-down one of the most beautiful, life-like paintings of this era I've ever seen. What an inspiration for a character!

Richard Foster said...

Not your ordinary Mr. Darcy, is he. This chap looks like he's just emerging from a three-day bender, and I like him all the better for it.

Girl Friday said...

What a lovely painting, and you're right, so modern-looking. Fascinating.

A traveller in time said...

It makes me wish I had known him. Thanks for posting it.

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