We all have a vision of 'England'; the village, the pub, the thatched cottage with roses round the door and the village green that in summer hosts the Sunday cricket match and the village fete. It is a cliche exploited by the media, from BBC Radio Four's The Archers to Midsommer Murders. Yet it is still highly persuasive and most of us believe that the Good Life will only be found in rural England. Samuel Palmer (1805-1881) certainly turned his back on the city, with all its deprivations; he also rejected progress, industrialism and suburbanisation, retreating to Shorham, Kent, with a band of 'brothers' known as the Ancients. The Ancients sought to capture the essence of the English countryside, an inevitable nostalgia for unspoilt nature leading to an idealisation of rural life.Palmer provided his followers with a stock of motifs, the hamlet nestling in the 'secret valley', the 'bright cloud' and the glowing sunset, thatched cottages and country churches, laden apple trees and stooks of corn, the shepherd tending his flock under a star-lit night and the weary ploughman wending his way home at the end of the day.
In the 1920s Palmer's work was rediscovered by Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland, who, after the horrors of the war, were searching for a new expressive language. Uncertainty and insularity encouraged our native tradition of landscape painting and a desire to see in nature 'worlds beyond', Eden or Paradise. Against a contemporary background of globalisation and environmental concerns, the search for England continues in the work of the Brotherhood of Ruralists; even in the twenty-first century, the pastoral tradition still offers us the comfort, albeit tinged with the sadness of loss, of Little England.
Publisher: Antique Collectors' Club Ltd