The landscape painter and illustrator, George Balmer, developed his artistic talents in Newcastle upon Tyne at the time that the town was considered to have ‘about the best of the provincial exhibitions in England’ (John Wykeham Archer, obituary of George Balmer, Art Union, October 1846). He established himself there as a landscape and marine painter, before gaining experience through a Continental tour. Settling in London, he worked as a topographical illustrator, as well as increasing his reputation as a painter, producing work that shows the influence of J M W Turner and has been compared to that of Charles Bentley.
George Balmer was born in North Shields, Northumberland, on 3 November 1805, the second son of George Balmer, a house-painter, and Ann Reed of Stannington, Northumberland. At the age of 14, he began an apprenticeship with his father, and subsequently joined the Edinburgh firm of the Newcastle decorator, Thomas Coulson. The landscapes of his colleague, John Wilson Ewbank, inspired him to earn his living as a painter.
Returning to North Shields, he exhibited in Newcastle upon Tyne from 1826, first at the Northumberland Institution for the Promotion of the Fine Arts, and then at various local venues. Sending his first work to the British Institution, London, in 1830, he moved to North Shields in 1831, and there showed works at its exhibition of watercolours, including one of several collaborations with J W Carmichael, who was at once his rival and intimate friend. He soon set off on a tour of the Continent, visiting Holland, Germany and Switzerland, before returning via Paris for an extended period of study at the Louvre, where he copied works by ‘Cuyp, Claude Lorraine, Paul Potter and Ruysdael’ (according to his friend, John Wykeham Archer, in obituary of George Balmer, Art Union, October 1846).
In 1833, Balmer settled in London, at 58 Seymour Street, Euston Square, and exhibited at the British Institution and the Society of British Artists, while continuing to show in Newcastle. During his time in London, he received the patronage of Mr Harrison, ‘an opulent merchant and accomplished gentleman of Liverpool’ (John Wykeham Archer).
Balmer married Mary Ann Cook at St Andrew’s, Newcastle, on 18 May 1836, and in the following year settled with his wife at 26 The Polygon, Clarendon Square, London. In 1836, he suggested the idea of the publication, The Ports, Harbours, Watering Places and Coast Scenery of Great Britain, to the engravers and publishers, Edward and William Finden. Once they agreed, he set to work, and produced the views of northeast England, which were published in two volumes in 1842. His friend, Archer, suggests that ‘the publication dwindled in other hands’. However, in that year, he inherited some property at Ravensworth, near Gateshead, County Durham, and retired there, no longer exhibiting, but continuing to paint for his own pleasure. He died at Bensham Grove, Bensham, Gateshead, on 10 April 1846 following an illness. He was survived by his only son, George, his wife having died in 1843.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the Laing Art Gallery (Newcastle upon Tyne), and Shipley Art Gallery (Gateshead).
John Wykeham Archer, obituary, Art Union, October 1846;
Marshall Hall, ‘Balmer, George (1805-1846)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 3, page 610