them was interested in Palmer’s work outside his Shoreham years.
Yet when Palmer abandoned mannered Romanticism, he still had fifty years of professional life and a living to earn. He went to Italy for two years, and on his return began to display hugely improved professional skills in painting large naturalistic landscapes of the type which the Victorians loved, and which afterwards fell completely out of favour, until a few years ago. He also became an etcher and produced some superb examples. I remember my father, who collected etchings, saying: ‘This man is better than Whistler and even James McBey.’
Campbell-Johnston deals very thoroughly and sensitively with these aspects of his work. Personally I prefer the big exhibition landscapes with their often sinister glows and brazen colours, and their haunting depths, to his Shoreham output, and I think she too has feelings in this direction. But she is pr imar ily concerned with Palmer’s struggles to earn money and a reputation, and his uneasy relationship with his father-in-law, the painter John Linnell. This man, who had been a pupil of John Varley, was a competent performer and an industrious operator. He had not a spark of Palmer’s genius but he had great skill in earning, saving and investing money, and became a wealthy patriarch in the art world, though his noisy and unorthodox religious views prevented his election to the Royal Academy. By marrying Varley’s daughter, Hannah, Palmer committed himself to a life of toil, for she had social pretensions and required amplitude and comfort in her style of life; her father was always surveying Palmer’s work and sales with a critical eye to ensure his daughter got a square deal. Linnell was important in getting Palmer started, introducing him to William Blake, and at one stage was refer red to by Palmer as an ‘angel from heaven’. Later, however, he was cold, sometimes hostile, sneering at Palmer’s failure to become a rich and successful artist, and contemptuous of his painstaking and conscientious efforts.
There were also personal tragedies in Palmer’s family, especially the death of his beloved son Thomas More, and some felt it might have been better if he had never married and remained a free spirit. The author tells this poignant story well and with sympathy. There is no doubt that Palmer found life hard. ‘O! this gr inding world, there is no leisure for anything,’ he wrote. ‘I could go quietly like a poor sheep under the first hedge and lie down and die.’ To a fellow artist he pictured himself as ‘a crushed worm’. A haunting self-portrait, done when Palmer was young and bought by the shrewd Kenneth Clark for the Ashmolean in 1933 when he was its curator, shows all his apprehension at the prospect of his long and disappointing life to come. Rachel Campbell-Johnston rightly chose it for the cover of her excellent book. To order this book for £20, see LR bookshop on page 16
CHARLES J ESDAILE
Th e G r e a t e s t G e n e r a l o f A l l Ti me ? RADETZKY: IMPERIAL VICTOR AND
By Alan Sked (I B Tauris 262pp £25)
IS IT POSSIBLE to discover a new military genius? It is with this question that Alan Sked, a well-known specialist on the Habsburg Empire, opens his account of the life and career of Johann Radetzky, the long-serving general who stood at the heart of the military affairs of Austr i a for the whole of the Restoration era and beyond. As few readers will have heard of him, it would probably be as well to begin this review with an account of his life and career.
Born into a family of the Bohemian nobility on 2 November 1766, Radetzky enlisted in the Austr ian army as an officer cadet in 1785 and first saw action as a cavalry officer in the Austro-Turkish War of 1788–91. There soon followed the French Revolutionary Wars of 1792–1801, a conflict in which Radetzky experienced much fighting in northern Italy, participating in the siege of Mantua, the great Austro-Russian counteroffensive that temporarily drove out the French in 1799 and, finally, the Battle of Marengo. Promoted to the rank of major-general in 1805, he again fought in Italy in the War of the Third Coalition, and in 1809 served as a divisional commander in IV Corps at the Battle of Wagram, taking part in the fierce fighting that raged around the village of Markgrafneuseidl. By now he was an experienced veteran with a reputation for considerable organisational ability, careful staff work, and much courage and daring – between 1788 and 1809 he had been wounded seven times and had nine horses killed under him. Following the armistice of Znaim he was made chief of the Austrian general staff, and, as such, played an important role in the campaigns that overthrew Napoleon in 1813–14.
After the war came a series of garrison and administrative roles, and in 1831 he was appointed to the most prestigious command that the Austrian service could at this time offer, namely the command of the large army that at this point garrisoned Habsburg-ruled Lombardy and Venetia. It was a fateful moment: still in post in Milan when Europe was gr ipped by revolt in 1848, Radetzky found himself facing not just bands of enthusiastic, barricade-building civilians, but also the troops of
LITERARY REVIEW June 2011