Some of the contemporary artists who are exhibiting in our Watercolour show have their own favourites.
Here, Silke Otto-Knapp talks about Samuel Palmer’s enigmatic A Hilly Scene:
Samuel Palmer painted an unusual number of nightscapes, which were often illuminated by a centrally positioned, exaggerated moon. Mainly using black ink or sepia, his paintings are based on observations of nature, but seem to aim for something far from a realistic depiction. While they refer to specific landscapes Palmer visited and observed, they achieve a visionary quality that seems very modern in its economy of means. A Hilly Scene is a small watercolour, symmetrically composed with two trees on either side that come together forming an arch just above a large sickle moon that illuminates the scene underneath. The hill mentioned in the title mirrors the shape of the moon like a round shadow. It ends abruptly in the middle of the picture with a horizontal line formed by the cornfield in the foreground, marking a dramatic divide between shadow and light. Palmer’s use of shapes and lines is bold; he depicts the leaves of the chestnut tree and the corn stalks with simple black outlines in exaggerated shapes. He combines this graphic approach to composition and shape with an unusual use of colour. The entire scene seems illuminated from within: the moon is the declared source of light, but it could not possibly produce this intensity of colour. Blues, yellows, oranges and greens seem to shine from beneath the darkness of the landscape, giving it an almost fantastical quality. The painting exists somewhere between the visionary aspirations of Palmer’s imagination and a realistic depiction of a familiar place.
Silke Otto-Knapp’s work is included in the Watercolour exhibition at Tate Modern.