The Weary Ploughman, or The Herdsman
29.7 cm x 43.5 cm (11 11/16 in. x 17 1/8 in.)
(London, 1805 - 1881, Reigate)
Medium and Support:
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002
Other than learning to draw from one William Wate, Samuel Palmer had no formal training as an artist. Despite this, he was already exhibiting at the Royal Academy by the age of fourteen. He met William Blake in 1824 and was much influenced by the older artist’s visionary approach to art. Not long afterward he moved to Shoreham in Kent. Calling themselves the “Ancients,” Palmer and his friends rejected the materialism that was taking hold in an increasingly industrialized England. Palmer’s romantic landscapes of this period verge on the fantastical, but two years in Italy in the late 1830s led to a more restrained and classical treatment of his subjects.
Palmer did not attempt etching until 1850, when he became a member of the Etching Club. In The Weary Ploughman, Palmer laid bare his Romantic tendencies with a moonlit scene. His command of the tonal range possible with etching shows his debt especially to the seventeenth-century Dutch but also to French contemporaries. Critics were ambivalent at best, and proponents of the etching revival in England, namely Francis Seymour Haden and James McNeill Whistler, dismissed the efforts of the Etching Club as amateurish despite the shared concerns of the two groups of artists.