Pauline Palmer

Pauline Lennards Palmer was born in McHenry, Illinois in 1867. As a young woman, Palmer was schooled in a convent in Milwaukee, WI and later attended the Art Institute in Chicago. She travel to Paris to study under artists Simon, Collin, and Courtois. In 1891, she married Dr. Albert Palmer of Chicago, who encouraged her development as an artist. The Palmers maintained a summer home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Palmer made friends with many of the Portuguese fishermen's families. Several of them, especially the children, became subjects for her later works. She also studied at this time with Charles Hawthorne.

Following Dr. Palmer's death in 1920, the artist spent much of her time in a private studio in Cape Cod. Palmer was involved in numerous organizations. She was a member of the Chicago Municipal Art League, Chicago Art Guild, a charter member of the Chicago Women's Salon, and a director of the Chicago Drama League. In 1918, she was elected the first woman President of the Chicago Society of Artists. She also served as President of The Art Institute Alumni Association in 1927, and as President of the Chicago Association of Painters and Sculptors from 1929 until 1931. Palmer has also exhibited widely during her lifetime, with the earliest showing in 1898, and later at expositions in Buffalo (1901),St. Louis (1904), and San Francisco (1915). Starting in 1899, she exhibited annually at the Art Institute of Chicago for 27 years, where she became a legend by winning nearly all of the museum's major awards, purchase prizes, and honorable mention citations.

In 1938, Palmer and her sister, Marie Lennard, traveled on an "artist's tour" of England and Scandinavian countries. She became ill in Trondheim, Norway and died there on August 15th of pneumonia. Obituaries celebrating her lifetime of artistic achievement called her "Chicago's Painter Lady".


Born in McHenry, Illinois, Pauline Palmer became a painter in realist/impressionist style of wide variety of subjects including landscapes, street and beach scenes, genre, and portraits. She trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, and studied with William Merritt Chase, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Charles Hawthorne. She also studied in Paris. She married Dr. Albert Palmer of Chicago, and he encouraged her art career. She exhibited annually at the Art Institute for nearly three decades and during that time, won most of the major awards and prizes. Highly active in Chicago, she was the first woman elected president of the Chicago Society of Artists (1918). She was also a member of the Chicago Art Guild, the Chicago Arts Club, and exhibited with these groups as well as the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. The Palmers had a summer home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and were much a part of the art community there. She was widowed at age fifty three and spent even more time after that in her Cape Cod studio. Children of the Portuguese fishermen and simple activities by the sea were favorite subjects of hers. Credit: "American Art Review," April 2002 "North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century," Jules and Nancy Heller Still arguably the best-known Chicago woman artist of her time, Pauline Lennards (or Lennard) Palmer (1867–1938) was born in McHenry, Illinois, attended school in Milwaukee, and taught art in Chicago public schools. Her marriage in 1891 to prosperous Chicago physician Albert Palmer enabled her to have a fulltime career as an artist. Palmer studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and began exhibiting there in 1896; she completed her formal training with three years of study in art academies in Paris. On her return to Chicago in 1902, Palmer opened a portrait studio and soon established herself as a fixture in the city’s art world. She exhibited regularly in the Art Institute of Chicago’s three annual exhibitions and in important national and international exhibitions, notably the prestigious Paris Salon. At the Art Institute, she won numerous prizes. Her first solo exhibition was held there in 1913 at the same time as the famous so-called Armory Show of modernist art. In 1917, Palmer joined the influential artists’ community working in the Tree Studios building on Chicago’s Near North Side. A leader among local artists, she was the first woman to serve as president of the Chicago Society of Artists, between 1918 and 1921, and she led the Association of Chicago Painters and Sculptors from 1929 to 1931. Palmer and her husband traveled widely, making several visits to Europe. In 1910, she worked in Giverny, France, an international center of impressionist practice where she absorbed the influence of American figural painter Richard Emil Miller. Beginning in 1915, the Palmers spent summers in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a popular seasonal colony for both modernist and conservative artists; after her husband’s death, in 1920, she spent more time there, making light-filled figural and landscape paintings. Palmer was adept in oil, pastel, tempera, and watercolor. In addition to portraits, she painted numerous studies of women and children as well as landscapes. Her work matured from a dark, tonal, academic approach to a conservative impressionism in which forms are suggested by distinct brushstrokes of brilliant color that emphasize the effects of full sunlight. Known as “Chicago’s painter lady,” Palmer was a perennial local favorite for her pleasing subjects and accessible style. In 1926, Chicago Tribune art critic Eleanor Jewett described her as one of “the two most popular and best liked artists belonging to Chicago’s art colony.” At the Art Institute, notwithstanding modernism’s dominance by the 1930s, Palmer was honored with a solo memorial exhibition the year after her death, as well as with one at the Union League Club of Chicago.

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