Samuel Palmer


This remarkable depiction of an ancient oak on an estate in Kent resulted from a commission from Palmer’s mentor, the artist John Linnell. Palmer approached the oak in distinctly anthropomorphic terms. His spirited pen work captured what he described in a letter as the tree’s “muscular belly and shoulders; the twisted sinews”—from the dense textures of bark and knots to the exuberant curves of the branches. Dots of opaque watercolor, so thick they project from the sheet, lend an unearthly glow.

Samuel Palmer
British; 1805–1881
Oak Tree and Beech, Lullingstone Park, ca. 1828
Pen and brown ink, graphite, watercolor, opaque watercolor, and gum glaze on gray paper


Jennifer Tonkovich, the Eugene and Clare Thaw Curator of Drawings and Prints, the Morgan Library and Museum, Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection.

This study of a massive oak with a cluster of flowering beech trees to the left set a record price for a drawing by the artist when Gene Thaw purchased it at auction in 2000. It is one of the finest drawings by Samuel Palmer from the most innovative period of his career. In 1824, Palmer met the great poet and seer William Blake and was deeply inspired by his example. Leaving London, Palmer settled in the village of Shoreham in Kent and spent the next 10 years making landscape drawings that are renowned for their visionary qualities.

This boldly drawn sheet with its shimmering swirls of graphite and richly impastoed touches of orange and yellow paint on the horizon was one of three commissioned by Palmer's father-in-law and patron, John Linnell. Palmer executed them in Lullingstone Park, a park venerated for its ancient oaks and old-growth forest.

Impressed by Palmer's drawings, Linnell tried to convince the artist that he could earn 1000 pounds a year making drawings of the landscape, but despite Palmer's straightened financial circumstances, he was stalwart against wasting his God-given talent churning out works. As he wrote to a friend, "I will not sell away His gift of art for money. No, not for fame neither." Sheets such as this, where drawing becomes nearly a devotional act for Palmer as he evokes the beauty and glory of creation, are why we think of the artist's Shoreham works as the pinnacle of his career and why he's celebrated as a visionary.