EXHIBITED: Cape Ann Historical Museum, "Fitz Hugh Lane and Mary Blood Mellen," 2007
The only woman artist of her time to have her work seen by a western audience, Frances "Fanny" Flora Palmer was ironically was never west of New Jersey. Her lithographs, especially those done for Currier and Ives, capture the spirit of 19th century life in America, though many of her western frontier images were frequently historically inaccurate. She became one of the outstanding graphic artists of the 19th century, whose work was widely reproduced. Palmer was said to be one of the most productive artists ever to work for Currier and Ives, completing several hundred lithographs.
It is thought that many more artworks by her were completed, although the name was disguised as F. F. Palmer because it was an age when being a woman worked against one's acceptance in the professional world.
Of her work it was written that "Perhaps no other artist expressed so clearly the optimistic spirit of the romantic drama of the new nation" (Rubinstein 68,) and "She was a pioneer among American printers in background tinting and was particularly adept in creating atmospheric landscapes." (Kovinick 239).
Palmer was born in Leicester, England and took her formal schooling with emphasis on art and music at Miss Linwood's School in London. She married Seymour Palmer in the 1830s, and they had two children. Experiencing financial problems, she and her family including a brother, sister, and brother-in-law moved to the United States in 1843. They first lived in New York, and she and her husband opened a lithograph company. Although this venture gained her an excellent reputation for lithography, they lost money and closed in the 1850s. However, she had been working for Currier and Ives beginning 1849, and this employment sustained her and her family until her death in Brooklyn in 1876. Her husband, who had become a tavern keeper, had died in 1859 ignominiously by falling drunken down a flight of stairs in a hotel in Brooklyn. And she was further burdened by a son who was never employed and who had tuberculosis.
She, a small and frail woman, continued to live in Brooklyn. "Never wealthy, she worked so hard for over twenty-five years over her pictures in the same stooped position that she became hunchbacked in later life" (Rubinstein 69).
Fanny Palmer's works were exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association, the National Academy of Design, the Society of Illustrators an the Society of Washington Artists in Washington, D.C. Today, her artworks are held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Gilcrease Museum, the National American History Museum in Washington, D.C., the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, the Brooklyn Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Gallery and the New York Historical Society, among others.
"American Women Artists" by Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein
"An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West", Phil and Marian Yoshiki Kovinick.