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Pastoral Visions: Samuel Palmer and his Followers

'Pastoral Visions' follows the development of British pastoral printmaking from Samuel Palmer to Paul Drury, looking at the work of Edward Calvert, Frederick Landseer Maur Griggs, Roy Stanley Badmin and Graham Sutherland.

Samuel Palmer (1805-1881)

Born in 1805, the son of a bookseller, Samuel Palmer spent much of his youth immersed in romantic and pastoral literature. This instilled in the young man a deep lifelong love of poetry and provided inspiration for many of his most celebrated images. Such was the prodigious nature of the young Palmer, as a draughtsman, that at the age of thirteen, his parents engaged William Wate as his master of drawings. In the early 19th century printmaking was closely allied to the book trade, with the majority of prints being published in books, and it was through the copying of engravings that Palmer’s studies were encouraged. One of the young artist’s formative influences was revealed to him when he was introduced to George Cooke’s 'Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England'. Cooke, both publisher and engraver of J. M. W. Turner's work, lived close to Palmer's father's bookshop and it was he who opened Palmer’s eyes to the work of Turner and the possibilities of printmaking.

However, the most significant influence on Palmer's poetic vision was his introduction, by John Linnell in 1824, to the aged William Blake. The contact with Blake was to be the most profoundly influential moment in Palmer's life. He found that the spiritual intensity and visionary fervor expressed in the artist’s ideas and watercolours, revealed a totally new approach to the interpretation of landscape and pastoral themes. When Palmer first visited Blake’s studio he was beginning work on the engravings for 'The Book of Job' having already created his inspired wood engravings for 'Pastorals of Virgil'.

Thrilled by this passion, Palmer and a group of friends including John Linnell, George Richmond, Edward Calvert and Welby Sherman, began to make prolonged visits to a cottage which Palmer's father had bought in the village of Shoreham, Kent. Here they began to live a life of 'pastoral ecstasy' and called themselves 'The Ancients'. His time in Shoreham would inspire Palmer to create some of the most beautiful and emotionally moving of all English Visionary art (Fig. 1)

In 1832 Palmer returned to London and, to a certain degree, lost the vivacity so characteristic of his Shoreham Period work. It was not until 1850 that the next major milestone in his life occurred. The event, which revitalised all of his old enthusiasm and intensity, was an invitation to join the Etching Club. Here he developed a technique of etching that concentrated the light into pinpoint touches, rich blacks and a minute pattern of line creating an intensity of light which exactly paralleled his Shoreham watercolours. Palmer’s focus on etching was to remain until his death, in 1881, by which time he had successfully created some fourteen etchings (Fig.2).

Over a quarter of a century later Palmer's work was rediscovered and it reinvigorated another generation of printmakers to pursue the pastoral vision so successfully expressed in his work. The first of this new generation was Frederick Landseer Maur Griggs.

Frederick Landseer Maur Griggs (1876-1938)

Born in Hitchin in 1876, Griggs first came across a copy of Palmer’s 'Eclogues of Virgil’ in the town library. The illustrations included a number of etchings by Palmer, four of which were finished by his son, A. H. Palmer. Griggs studied drawing at the Slade School of Art before joining, in 1896, the architectural draughtsman’s office of C.E. Mallows. In 1900 he was employed by the publisher Macmillan to start work on a number of architectural pen and ink drawings for the thirteen volumes of their English regional guide 'Highways and Byways', starting with his native county of Hertfordshire. In 1903 Griggs arrived in the small Cotswold town of Chipping Camden in order to work on his latest volume and decided to settle there. Over the next twenty-six years Chipping Camden would prove to have the significance for Griggs that Shoreham had for Palmer. In the same way that Shoreham allowed an introduction to the cycle of rural life for Palmer, Chipping Camden provided buildings and architecture to Griggs (Fig.3). Whilst in Chipping Camden Griggs met the architect Ernest Gimson and, the great bastion the Arts and Crafts movement and founder of the Guild of Handicrafts, C.R. Ashbee, the. Both men would inspire Griggs immensely.

In 1912 Griggs. having converted to Catholicism, took up etching with great fervour. He produced some fifty-seven prints in all and was technically unchallenged by any of his generation. The complex process of etching, sometimes described as ‘almost religious’, set Griggs’s imagination free and his great masterpieces of printmaking ‘St Botolphs Boston’ and ‘The Almonry’ are surely a testament to this. He created idealised Gothic buildings and landscapes, ‘Anglia Perdita’, appropriating buildings that he knew well and incorporating them into his medieval towns. Etching also served to liberate Griggs’s mind imbuing a sense of his own mental state into the complex landscapes.

One of Griggs’s most important legacies is his role as the intermediary who transmitted ‘Palmeresque Pastoralism’ to the next generation of etchers. In 1926 Griggs, in association with Martin Hardie and Frank Short, printed new editions of five of Palmer’s etchings. That very same year he also invited Graham Sutherland and Paul Drury to Camden to demonstrate printing from their plates at Dover's Press (the private press Griggs set up in 1922).

Stanley Roy Badmin (1906-1989)

Born in 1906 in the London suburb of Sydenham, Badmin did not take up etching until his early twenties when he enrolled as a postgraduate at the Royal College of Art in 1927. His tutor, Robert Austin, introduced Badmin to the XXI Gallery who became his dealer. They had been the publisher of Griggs’ etchings from 1915 to 1920 and also exhibited Sutherland and Drury’s work. Badmin’s work was a more literal translation of the British rural landscape than that of Griggs and Palmer (Fig.4), perhaps the reason that he was eventually employed to complete the ‘Highways and Byways’ series which the ailing Griggs could not complete.

Graham Vivian Sutherland (1903-1980)

Trained in etching at the Goldsmith’s College School of Art, Sutherland was part of a group of artists including Paul Drury (1903-1987) and Robin Tanner (1904-1988) who in the mid to late 1920’s produced a small body of heavily visionary and romantic pastoral prints. Their works idealised the English countryside and emphasised their deep emotional connection to nature (Fig 5). In 1925, Lawrence Binyon, keeper of prints at the British Museum, published a book entitled ‘The Followers of William Blake: Edward Calvert, Samuel Palmer, George Richmond & Their Circle’; This book along with the Goldsmith’s Group’s body of work undoubtedly played a key role in re-awakening an interest in the art of Samuel Palmer.

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Griggs, F.L. (1876-1938) Drawing from the Irish Sketchbook, Pencil,  c.1916
Griggs, F.L. (1876-1938) 'The Quay', Etching, 1916.
Griggs, F.L. (1876-1938), 'The Quay', Etching, 1916.
Griggs, F.L. (1876-1938), ‘Epiphany’, Etching with the original Copper Plate, 1919.
Griggs, F.L. (1876-1938), 'Castor', Etching, 1927.
Griggs, F.L. (1876-1938) 'St. Mary's Nottingham', Etching, 1929.
Griggs, F.L. (1876-1938), 'Tattershall', etching, 1930.
GRIGGS, F.L. (1876-1938) 'THE CROSS HANDS', ETCHING, 1935.
GRIGGS, F.L. (1876-1938) 'THE CROSS HANDS', ETCHING, 1935.
Griggs, F.L. (1876-1938), 'St Botolphs Bridge No.2' Etching, 1936-37.
SUTHERLAND, GRAHAM (1903-1980), 'THE VILLAGE', ETCHING, 1925.
Sutherland, Graham (1903-1980), 'Cray Fields VI', Etching, 1925.
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