There is an early sketch in the Samuel Palmer exhibition currently showing at the British Museum depicting God Creating the Sun and Moon (1824). It is indicative of Palmer’s “sun-and-moonism”, the way he lights his landscapes with dramatic suns and shining moons. This tendency is present from the beginning, in the ink drawings of the Shoreham period, such as Late Twilight with its waxing sickle moon, and remained fifty years later in watercolours like The Lonely Tower. Palmer said “the earth is never so fair without its luminaries – they are its eyes; and if it border on mannerism to introduce them, it is the same often to omit them.” It may indeed have become a mannerism among Palmer’s twentieth century followers. John Minton for example was aware that in the wake of Graham Sutherland and the other Neo-Romantics, Palmer-inspired moons were ‘in’ (see the catalogue essay by Colin Harrison). It is a long time now since the etchings of Sutherland and Minton were ‘in’, but seeing these Palmers together prompts the thought that it may be time to think again about the ways in which the earth’s “eyes” transform the landscape.
Samuel Palmer, The Lonely Tower, painted 1868, etching 1878