Discuss the mystery of the journeying man: where might he have come from? Where might he be going? Who is he? Why is he walking at night? Who might he meet on his journey? Episodes in the story could be illustrated using Palmer's technique of watercolour wash, with the detail in pen and ink.
Palmer often used monochrome colours, black, sepia and white, often mixing the inks with gum arabic to create a shiny, textural line. Use "Cornfield by Moonlight" to inspire work on light and shade within moonlit scenes, using a monochrome palette, creating all the effects of tone and atmosphere using light and shade rather than colour.
This painting was completed just before the Great Reform Act of 1832.
Palmer opposed reform since he believed the proposed changes would increase, rather than alleviate, poverty for rural people. There were riots over reform in Shoreham, Palmer's home in rural Kent in 1830. Discuss how this painting can be viewed as a metaphor for Palmer's pessimism over the plight of the countryside. Palmer himself wrote a pamphlet in 1832 "to the electors of West Kent" attacking the Great Reform Act. Ask your class to write their own pamphlets, trying to persuade or dissuade the electors foragainst the changes proposed in the Act.
Compare the Palmer painting with some poems by William Blake (eg "Songs of Innocence: Night", especially first verse). Consider the images, tone and attention to details of nature in both, and the spiritual value of these details.
The sun descending in the west, The evening star does shine; The birds are silent in their nest, And I must seek for mine.
The moon like a flower, In heaven's high bower, With silent delight Sits and smiles on the night.
Richard Woff and Sarah Longair, British Museum education department