In his early days as an artist Samuel Palmer found inspiration in the Dulwich countryside. He was a lover of trees and hills and moonlight. His inspiration from Dulwich and the surrounding areas came before his stay in Shoreham on the river Darenth in Kent, for which he is better known, where with other artists he would go for walks in the night making studies for his visionary paintings of the moonlight.
Samuel palmer was born in 1805 in Newington, South London. As a child, his father, who was a bookseller and stationer in the City, used to take him on long and enjoyable walks in what was then countryside south of Newington, introducing him to the beauties of nature. They particularly liked a walk in the country between Dulwich and Greenwich Park. Palmer later described this countryside as "The Gate into the World of Vision."
By the age of 13 Samuel Palmer had decided to become an artist. According to William Vaughan in his book Samuel Palmer, Vision and Landscape a sketchbook survives dating from when he was 14. In this sketchbook are a variety of watercolours and drawings devoted to landscapes of many of his favourite places between Greenwich and Battersea.
The lovely scenery of Dulwich was still important to Palmer in his 1824 sketchbook compiled when he was 19. It had not yet been replaced by the scenery of Shoreham. Next to a pen and ink drawing in this sketchbook Palmer wrote these notes; " Remember the Dulwich sentiment, at very late twilight, time with the rising dews (perhaps), the tops of the hill (quite clear), like a delicious dream."
A year later Palmer completed six ink, gum and sepia drawings, now known as the Oxford series. These are beautiful drawings studying the effects of light; the light of the sun and the moon, mainly in the twilight or early morning and late evening. He draws the effect of light on clouds, rounded hills and trees, including an ancient horse chestnut in the dusk. William Vaughan writes of these drawings; " All depict fertile valley scenery enclosed by rounded hills reminiscent of the countryside around both Dulwich and Shoreham."
A later watercolour by Palmer, provisionally dated between 1824 and 1826 has some similarities to the Oxford series. It shows twilight with a sickle moon, a rounded hill and a church steeple. Vaughan says of the painting,; "the scenery seems to be inspired by an amalgam of features from Dulwich and Shoreham rather than representing any precise location."
Palmer had been visiting Shoreham since at least September 1824. He moved to Shoreham, where his father had taken a house, fully in 1827. Shoreham is widely acknowledged as the inspiration for Palmer's art. Here his monochrome paintings with their black and brown washes flourished. Dulwich deserves to be better known as an inspiration to Palmer's early art.