Herbert Sidney Palmer was born in Toronto on June 15th, 1881 to parents Charles and Frances (Baldwin) Palmer of Gloucester, England. His artistic training began under the auspices of J.W. Beatty and F.S. Challener at the Ontario College of Art, where Palmer trained with some of the greatest and most renowned artists of his generation.
His first public exhibition was with the Ontario Society of Artists in 1905, to which he was elected a member in 1909, and Secretary in 1926. He was elected an associate of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1915, and a RCA Academician in 1934. It was to the OSA, the RCA and organizations like them that Palmer was to commit all of his energies not reserved for painting. He was a founding member of the Toronto Arts and Letters Club, which made him honorary lifetime member in 1956.
For nearly 40 years he was associated with the Canadian National Exhibition, curating its Fine Arts Department from 1926 to 1941. He maintained a lifelong involvement with the OSA and the RCA, including his role as OSA Secretary for 40 years. Throughout this time, peers regarded him as a calm, steady and supportive presence. The one endeavor that Palmer was said to have looked back upon with the most pride and satisfaction was a 1914 exhibition that he arranged and curated for the RCA of works donated by Canadian artists to be sold in support of the Canadian effort in World War I.
Palmer traveled across the country, arranging for the donated works personally, amassing a collection of art from the likes of Ozias Leduc, Henrietta Mable May, and J.W. Morrice. As an artist, Palmer was prolific and critics and colleagues, as well as the art community at large held his work in high esteem. This resulted not only in successful commercial shows with the OSA, RCA, CNE and respected exhibitors such T. Eaton and Co., but also his inclusion in major exhibitions at key cultural establishments such as the Art Gallery of Toronto, The National Gallery of Canada, the New York World’s Fair and the Tate Gallery, London. A clear example of the respect that Palmer garnered was that in 1960, by unanimous decision, he was awarded the first annual Baxter Foundation Fellowship for his dedication both as an artist and as an adherent to Canadian art.
Palmer’s work can but found in numerous private collections, as well as the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, University of Toronto’s Hart House, and many others.