During the late 19th century, it is said that in the homes of most ordinary Americans there were lithographs created by Frances "Fanny" Palmer.
Aside from the drawings, you will see her work on countless numbers of greeting cards, calendars, and in books as the print makers in America loved to use her
artwork. Even though her work was so widely used throughout America, she
was ignored by many art historians.
Fanny was born Frances Flora Bond in 1812, in Leicester, England. She received her art training from a private girl's school, where
she was instructed by Mary Linwood who was an artist herself. When Fanny
was age 20, she would marry Edmund Palmer, who was employed as a gentleman's gentleman.
After Edmund lost his job, Fanny and Edmund fell on financial hard times.
They decided to start a lithography business together, where Edmund would work
as a printer and Fanny would do the artwork.
In 1844, Fanny and Edmund saved enough money from their lithography business
to move to America. They would move to Manhattan, New York, where they set
up a business that was named "F. & S. Palmer". This business failed and
again left them and their two children, along with other family members from
Fanny's family, with a bleak financial outlook.
Edmund took a job running a local tavern where he quickly drank up most of
the profits that the tavern brought in. In the book titled "Currier &
Ives: Printmakers to the American People", Harry Peters describes Edmund as:
was fond of shooting, even fonder of drinking, and had no interest in any kind
of work. As time went on, his son Edmund Jr. became a handsome second
edition of his father."
In 1851, Fanny went to work for Nathaniel Currier, who owned a lithographic
firm in New York. She would travel to New Jersey, Long Island, New York,
and other cities throughout New York. However, most of her artwork was of
places that Fanny had never been. She would create her artworks after
drawing on various sources such as books describing the places she was drawing,
by viewing daguerreotypes, and in the latter part of her career, by viewing
photographs of the places she was drawing.
In 1857, Nathaniel Currier took on a partner named James M. Ives, forming the
firm called "Currier & Ives". They would employ many artists and became
known as the largest supplier of lithographs in America. Fanny began
working an excessive amount of hours in her later years while being employed at
Currier & Ives. Her body was said to appear almost deformed from leaning
over while she created her lithographs. Her specialty was in creating
atmosphere in her drawings and creating beautiful backgrounds and scenery.
She would travel frequently to Long Island, where she would be driven
throughout the countryside in a carriage. This allowed her to quickly
sketch many types of rural and suburban settings such as:
Although many artists relied on others to do the actual lithograph of their
drawing, Fanny could not only sketch but was talented enough to work at creating her own lithographs.
In many of the wildlife and hunting lithographs, Fanny would use the
background that she sketched in the rural areas of Long Island and would use her
husband and their dogs as subjects portrayed in the lithograph as a hunter and his dogs out hunting.
In 1859, Fanny was told that her husband, Edmund fell down a flight of stairs
while drunk where he broke his neck and quickly died. James Ives, of
Currier & Ives, said this about Edmund's death,
"That's the best thing he ever
did for her."
Fanny began signing some of her works as F. F. Palmer. It is estimated
that she created over 200 unique works for Currier & Ives. However, since
the majority of her works were unsigned, that figure could be quite a bit higher.
Many of Fanny's works have been reproduced millions of times throughout the
years appearing on calendars, greeting cards, and as illustrations in books.
Charlotte Rubinstein, who wrote the book titled "American Women Artists:
From the Early Indian Times to Present " had
this to say about Fanny:
"Like a Hollywood screen writer or advertising artist today, Palmer operated
as part of a big machine - in this case one that presented a glamorized and
picturesque view of America, free of sweating immigrants in factories and slums.
The upward mobile public identified with the technological progress, and with
images on their walls of well-kept homes, happy families, idyllic landscapes and
rich still lifes."
Fanny died from tuberculosis on August 20, 1876 and was buried in the
Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
The wife of the last owner of Currier & Ives, Mrs. Daniel Logan, had this to
say about Fanny Palmer:
"She was a very refined woman. Worked very hard. Was modest and
subdued in dress ... she was a lady, born and bred."
H. T. Peters: Currier & Ives: Printmakers
to the American People (New York, 1942).
M. B. Cowdrey: ‘Fanny Palmer, an American
Lithographer’, (New York, 1962),
Rubinstein, Charlotte. American Women Artists: From the Early Indian Times to
Present. 1st ed. : G K Hall , (1982).
C. S. Rubinstein: ‘The Early Career of Frances
Flora Bond Palmer (1812–1876)’, Amer. A. J., xvii/4 (1985).