Celebrating Fanny Palmer–The Artist Behind Currier & Ives

Celebrating Fanny Palmer–The Artist Behind Currier & Ives

Although her designs adorned the walls of homes and businesses across the United States, the name Frances (Fanny) Flora Bond Palmer (1812-1876) remains largely unknown. The Springfield Museums will celebrate the accomplishments of this important and talented lithographer with the new exhibit Fanny Palmer: The Artist behind Currier & Ives’s Greatest Prints, opening August 6 at the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, and on display through February 23, 2020.

“The prints displayed in this exhibition may be familiar to visitors, as Fanny Palmer’s designs are among the most quintessential scenes of American life in the 19th century,” said Maggie North, Acting Curator of Art at the Springfield Museums. “But most viewers are unlikely to recognize her name.” Palmer was arguably the most prolific artist working behind the scenes for the Currier & Ives lithography firm. She produced and designed over 200 prints, many of which today are regarded as the best examples published by the firm.

“Despite her work’s quality,” North said, “Palmer has been overlooked by art history.”

Fanny Palmer: The Artist behind Currier & Ives’s Greatest Prints incorporates the scholarship of the late Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein and Diann Benti, who published the first-ever monograph on the artist’s work in 2018. “Their book, Fanny Palmer: The Life and Works of a Currier & Ives Artist, diversifies our understanding of art history by adding new voices, stories, and perspectives to the narrative,” North said. “Our exhibition explores Palmer’s artistic vision, and offers a renewed examination of Palmer’s approach to commemorating, documenting, and influencing the American experience.”

“Palmer is an especially intriguing artist as she was an avid outdoor enthusiast and often accompanied her husband on fishing trips,” said Heather Haskell, Vice President of the Museums and Director of Art Museums. “Her detailed drawings, created from direct observation while out in the wilderness, add a veracity to her lithographic compositions that was especially popular with the print-buying public.”

Currier & Ives prints, some scholars suggest, were like the Instagram of the 19th century because of their popularity and their ubiquity—everyone had at least one print on display in their home or business. Before partnering with James Merritt Ives in 1857, Nathaniel Currier established a successful New York City-based lithography firm in 1835. He produced thousands of hand-colored prints that together created a vivid panorama of American life. Among the many artists he employed was Fanny Palmer, who was already an accomplished printmaker when she arrived in the city from England in 1843. As an artist and designer who was also able to transfer her compositions to lithographic stones for printing, Palmer was invaluable to the firm. Currier & Ives relied on many different hands—artists, lithographers, colorists, and salesmen—to produce in great number the spectacular American scenes people collected with enthusiasm. By the time Currier & Ives became a household name, Palmer was well on her way to producing hundreds of images that contributed to the success of the company.

Though she passed away at the young age of 64, Palmer’s 26-year career with Currier & Ives left a lasting legacy. “We look forward to sharing her important work with our visitors,” Haskell said.

About the Currier & Ives Collection at the Springfield Museums

The Lenore B. and Sidney A. Alpert Currier & Ives Collection at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts is one of the largest holdings of lithographs in the nation. “We are also the only museum that continually displays the prints from ‘the printmakers to the people,’” Haskell said.

Fanny Palmer: The Artist behind Currier & Ives’s Greatest Prints
August 6–February 23, 2020
Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts

Image credit: American Country Life. May Morning, 1855, hand-colored lithograph published by Nathaniel Currier (American, 1813-1888), after Frances Flora Bond Palmer (American, 1812-1876), Gift of Lenore B. and Sidney A. Alpert, supplemented with Museum Acquisition Funds, 2004.D03.509.