William Palmer, Portrait Painter

(b. 1763, d. 1790)

Portrait Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Was son of Alexander Palmer, a linen-draper in Limerick, where he was born on 18th November, 1763. Evincing a taste for art, he entered the Dublin Society's School and won a medal for figure-drawing in 1781. He afterwards went to London, and became a pupil of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and studied also in the schools of the Royal Academy. He seems to have learned more in Sir Joshua's studio than most of those who passed through it. Reynolds troubled himself little about the instruction of his pupils; they had the run of the house, could copy what they liked, but beyond that received little attention from their master. Northcote, the only one of Sir Joshua's numerous pupils who became distinguished, says that the pupils were left to chance and their own endeavours: "Most of his scholars could never get a decent livelihood, but lived in poverty and died in debt, miserable to themselves and a disgrace to the art."

In 1784 Palmer obtained the first premium for drawing from the Society of Arts; was again premiated in 1785 for drawings from statues and for the best drawing of an Academy figure. In 1784 he sent two portraits to the Academy exhibition, and two in the following year. In 1786 he contributed a crayon sketch and "A Natural Philosopher, candle-light"; and two years later, in 1788, he exhibited his "Portrait of Louise the celebrated maid of the Haystack." To paint this picture he journeyed specially to Bristol. It was afterwards engraved. In or soon after 1788 he returned to Limerick, and commenced practice as a portrait painter in oil and miniature. He was gaining recognition as an able artist, but an early death cut short a promising career.

He suffered from consumption, and while journeying from Mallow to Limerick he died at Bruff on 26th July, 1790. He was buried on the 28th in St. John's church, Limerick. Two sets of verses on his death appeared in "The Limerick Chronicle" of 5th August, 1790; one of sixteen lines, by Thomas O'Brien, of Killaloe; the other, of twenty-eight lines, by Miles Bourke. The former runs as follows:

With grace divine, while Palmer's hands

The canvas rude illum'd,

The blended tints at his command

A mimic life assumed.

The dimple sinks, the eye-balls roll

Beneath his life-fraught stroke,

The human form confessed a soul,

It lived, it moved, it spoke.

With envy Death the triumph saw,

And said "How vain my art!

If man (against great Nature's law)

Is rescued from my dart.

"Unhurt by time's devouring rust

His works my powers deride,

Yet know—the artist is but dust,"

He said,—and Palmer died.

Palmer had himself a taste for poetry, but few of his poems are published.

A miniature by him was in the Dublin Exhibition of 1873.

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