George Balmer

(c. 1806 - 10 April 1846)



Geoege Balmer was the son of a respectable house-painter at North Shields, and was originally destined to follow his father's business. His early predilections, however, were such as disqualified him for merely mechanical pursuits, and he for some time practised the decorative part of the business with Coulson of Edinburgh. Here he had an opportunity of observing the progress of Ewbank, whose pure and fluent productions suggested a kindred but more powerful style, which developed itself in several works, which immediately became a feature in the Newcastle Exhibition, then (about 1829-30) considered one of the best of the provincial exhibitions in England. He afterwards exhibited a more ambitious production in point of size -- this was 'A View of the Port of Tyne,' which was purchased by T. Batson, Esq., of Newcastle. About the year 1831, an exhibition of water-colour drawings was produced in Newcastle, in which appeared several performances in that style by Balmer, especially some exquisite views of the scenery in the neighbourhood of Rokeby, one of which was the gem of the exhibition, and will yet be remembered by many as 'The Juicy Tree Bit.' Another of these drawings was beautifully engraved by Miller for the 'Aurora Borealis,' an annual produced by some members of the Society of Friends in Northumberland.

The honourable rivalry and friendly intimacy which existed between George Balmer and J. W. Carmichael (an artist whose marine subjects have obtained an extended celebrity) induced these two painters to unite their efforts in one great work, the subject of which was 'The Heroic Exploit of Admiral Collingwood at the Battle of Trafalgar.' This capital picture is now in the Trinity House of Newcastle. Presently after the completion of this large picture, Balmer took his departure for a tour on the Continent, sketching industriously as he proceeded. He visited several parts of Holland, and then proceeded up the Rhine, and traversed Switzerland, when, having made some valuable studies among the Alps, he turned a longing eye towards Italy, but hesitated and postponed that enterprise to a period which never came. He then set off for Paris in order to study the masterpieces in the Louvre Gallery, of several of which he made copies. On his return to England he came to London, where he wrought with assiduity and success for the Exhibition. A large 'View of Bingen,' which it is believed is now in Liverpool; 'A View of Rotterdam,' of which there is an engraving; 'Haarlem Mere,' a large moonlight, and a fine picture of St. Goar, were among the first fruits of his application. At this time he found a kind patron in Mr. Harrison, an opulent merchant and accomplished gentleman of Liverpool. This gentleman, whom he had met abroad, enabled him, by his purchases and recommendations, to pursue his object steadily and without those pecuniary misgivings which too generally oppress while they cruelly goad the artist who would earn an honourable fame. While the beauties of the scenery he had visited remained strong upon his mind.

Balmer worked assiduously from his foreign sketches; but many of them remained unused, for the original feeling and desire to represent the scenery of the British coast returned after a time. Balmer made much and good use of his foreign sketches, but his was a properly English genius. Balmer was never so much in his element as when painting a stranded ship, an old lighthouse, or the rippling of the waves on a shingly coast. He was much under the influence of early associations, and such were the objects to which he had been accustomed from childhood. An old mill was likewise a favourite subject of his pencil; and this was but another reminiscence of early days, when he ofttimes sojourned with his uncle, the miller at Plessy, near Blythe. His pictures containing an old mill, with the scenery of the river Wansbeck, chiefly moonlights, are among his happiest productions. In 1836, Balmer proposed to the Messrs. Finden a publication entitled "The Ports and Harbours of Great Britain," -- a work which was spiritedly commenced, and contained many views, chiefly on the north coast from his drawings. However, the publication dwindled in other hands, and ended tamely enough.

About this time Balmer found himself in circumstances which made him independent of his profession; and a diffidence with regard to the merit of his own productions caused him to give up several commissions, and thenceforth, to the regret of many who admired his talent and worth, he abated his efforts, painting only a slight bit from time to time, to keep his hand in, or as gifts to his friends. About the year 1842, Balmer retired from London, and settled near Ravensworth, in the county of Durham, where he was assailed in the prime of life by the malady which terminated his career on the 10th of April, 1846.

He died near Ravensworth, in Durham, 10 April 1846. Pictures of shipping, of street arcnitecture, and of rural scenery came alike from his hand. His prints show great versatility. His reputation in his day was considerable.

[Ottley's Supplement to Bryan's Dictionary of Painters; Cooper's Biography Dictionary; Redgrave's Dictionary of Artists of the English School.]

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