Great Works: Early Morning (1825), Samuel Palmer

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Visionary often suggests blurry, misty, something vague. It's as if revelations always came with a loss of focus. The rational is distinct. The mystical is ghostly. We often see Turner as a visionary artist. After all, as Constable put it, his paintings resemble "tinted steam".

But when Aldous Huxley took mescaline, it was the sense of radiant clarity, of infinite detail, which overwhelmed him. He looked down at the folds of his trousers: "What a labyrinth of endlessly significant complexity! And the texture of the grey flannel – how rich, how deeply, mysteriously sumptuous." He said: "I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation – the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence... pure Being, a bundle of minute, unique particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet self-evident paradox, was to be seen the divine source of all existence." The language here Huxley partly borrows from William Blake. "Every minute particular is holy..."

And it's the kind of vision you find in Blake's follower, Samuel Palmer – for example in his Early Morning. The picture shows a path running through a wood, near Shoreham in Kent, the out-of-town village that the young London artist had made into his personal rural paradise. It is first light. The sun rises behind the big, silhouetted tree, but deep shadows cling on. The scene takes a moment to come clear, as its dense sepia browns and gleaming golden whites resolve into recognisable objects.

But soon you make out that rabbit loitering in the foreground, and the rising log. In the background, there's the humped thatched cottage, and the curved field of high corn in front of it. Just in front of that there's the dip in the ground that discloses (surprisingly) a small group of people – a congregation at prayer, perhaps.

And as you look, you see that nothing in the scene is taken for granted, nothing is sketched or suggested. Each living organism has been individuated, defined with an emphatic shape. The elements of the world are seen afresh and newly named. The oak tree stands out, recast with the profile of a huge mushroom. The cottage is like a little pastry pie. The field of corn is like a loaf. It's the same with every little hummock and patch of grass, every single leaf and blade and ear and flower. Even as the scene retreats into the distance, nothing loses its identity in a blur of atmosphere. Palmer believes in individuality to the end. Each bit of creation has its iconic character, distinctly outlined. Delineated within their dark contours, nature's elements glow like the fragments of a stained glass window.

Our senses are made alive to nature's particulars, to its complexity. The ground and the foliage teem with numberless bits. Early Morning may avoid all blur, but its multiplicities are often ungraspable, made of particles so tiny that elude the eye. It is a small image, about seven inches by nine. You can peer into. You can put a magnifying glass to its surface and pick out its minutiae. It is a packed cellular world, a world under pressure, and what increases its pressure is the sense of enclosure. Small forms are contained in larger forms. Irregular forms are simplified. Nature is rounded up within firm curves, gathered into a flock of mounds. The breeding world brims against these boundaries.

This landscape is like a womb. Unlike the usual outdoors art of England, from Constable to Long, it has little interest in spreading land, in far horizons and open skies. Its forms are bounded. Its details proliferate. It holds and strains. Notionally a view of countryside, Early Morning is really a fecund vision of seeds and pods and cells. Deep nature.]

About the artist

Samuel Palmer (1805-81) has been called "the English Van Gogh". He was aprecocious, original artist. In his early twenties, inspired by Blake, Dürer and his own "primitive and infantine vision", he produced a series of miraculous rural scenes. He founded the first British avant-garde, the Ancients. He reacted to the modern world with medievalist Romanticism – "The past is for poets. The present for pigs." When his works were rediscovered in the 1920s, they influenced every British Modernist.

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss