Palmer, Frances Flora (1812–1876)

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Palmer, Frances Flora (1812–1876)

English-born American lithographer. Name variations: Fanny Palmer; Frances Flora Bond Palmer; occasionally signed work "F.F. Palmer." Born Frances Flora Bond on June 26, 1812, in Leicester, England; died of tuberculosis on August 20, 1876, in Brooklyn, New York; daughter of Robert Bond (an attorney) and Elizabeth Bond; married Edmund Seymour Palmer, in early 1830s (died 1859); children: Flora E. and Edmund Seymour (possibly twins, b. about 1834).

Immigrated to United States (early 1840s); drew great praise for two lithographic views of Manhattan (1849); later lithographs captured the American public's imagination regarding western expansion and manifest destiny (late 1860s).

Selected works:

The High Bridge at Harlem New York (1849); American Farm Scenes (1853); American Winter Scenes (1854); American Country Life (1855); A Midnight Race on the Mississippi (1860); The 'Lighting Express' Train, Leaving the Junction (1863); American Express Train (1864); Season of Blossoms (1865); The Rocky Mountains, Emigrants Crossing the Plains (1866); Across the Continent, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1868).

Frances Palmer, benefiting from a well-bred English education, became a noted American artist. Pressed by the need to be the chief provider for her family and committed to her art, she proved herself capable of capturing America's imagination. She masterfully portrayed scenes and events that embodied the widespread belief in the nation's limitless potential during the rapid U.S. expansion of the mid-19th century.

Frances Palmer, called Fanny, was born in England on June 26, 1812, the first of three children of Robert and Elizabeth Bond . A well-to-do London lawyer, her father provided for her education at private schools, including Miss Linwood's, where she studied music, art and lithography. Her brother and sister were also educated in the arts. In the early 1830s, she married Edmund Seymour Palmer, a gentlemanly type who soon proved to be financially unreliable, and gave birth to their children Flora and Edmund Seymour, Jr. (assumed to be twins) around 1834. Financial burdens mounted. In the early 1840s, accompanied by Frances' brother, sister, and brother-in-law, the family sailed to New York City. There Palmer used her earlier training in drafting to start a lithographic printing and publishing business, F. & S. Palmer, with her husband, producing prints of landscapes and of flowers as well as music cover sheets. Soon she added architectural elevations on stone. Though she exhibited exceptional skills in lithography, the business faltered, and in 1848 the family moved to Brooklyn.

In 1849, Palmer joined the prestigious Nathaniel Currier lithograph firm as a staff artist. She attained instant success with the publication of two lithographic views of Manhattan. A watercolor painting that many later would consider her most significant original artwork, The High Bridge at Harlem New York, also was published as a lithograph by Currier that year. Over the next decade, Palmer produced numerous mid- to large-sized country landscapes and farm scenes directly on the stone medium. She also developed the process for printing a background tint from stone. Her better works during this time included American Farm Scenes (1853), American Winter Scenes (1854), and American Country Life (1855). Palmer also collaborated with Charles Currier in improving the lithographic crayon. In 1857, James M. Ives joined the firm, which became known as Currier & Ives. Through Ives' artistic influence, Palmer's work became more varied and dramatic, as exhibited by A Midnight Race on the Mississippi (1860), The 'Lightning Express' Train, Leaving the Junction (1863), and American Express Train (1864). In the later 1860s, she adopted an epic art style along U.S. western expansion themes. Among the most notable examples of these lithographs are the wagon train in The Rocky Mountains, Emigrants Crossing the Plains (1866) and Across the Continent, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1868). Unfortunately, Ives also exerted a negative influence on Palmer's work, as he drew human figures in her lithographs which meshed poorly with her artistic style. Palmer became recognized as one of Currier & Ives' most prolific artists, producing around 200 known lithographs for the firm (many other works likely appeared anonymously) before her retirement in 1868. Her artwork was reproduced hundreds of times on calendars and greeting cards throughout the 20th century, uncredited except for the name of Currier & Ives.

Well known as a personable, cheerful, yet intense individual, Palmer had a habit of working while bent closely over her projects which eventually left her with a permanent stoop. As one of the top American lithographers of her time, as well as the only woman then working in the medium, she enjoyed broad success with the public. Her reproductions hung in many homes, both capturing and propelling the romanticized vision of the new American West for the many who had never seen it. (Palmer herself never traveled beyond New Jersey.) Her husband, who had worked in a tavern, died in 1859 from a possibly drunken tumble down the stairway of a Brooklyn hotel. Her son died in 1867 from tuberculosis, the same disease that killed Palmer herself, at age 64, in 1876. She was buried in Brooklyn's Greenwood Cemetery.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1982.

suggested reading:

Currier and Ives' America (1952) and A Currier & Ives Treasury (1955), both edited by Colin Simkin, contain many of Palmer's lithographs.

Richard C. C. , freelance writer, Eugene, Oregon

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Palmer, Frances Flora (1812–1876)

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