Palmer began as a child with the painting and in 1819 was followed by a first exhibition of his works at the Royal Academy of Arts and the British Institution. Shortly thereafter, he became friends with John Linnell and learned through this his teacher John Varley, William Mulready and especially William Blake know, its strange and mystical genius exercised the strongest influence on Palmer as in the painting Repose of the Holy Family (1824 ).
A disease led to a stay in Shoreham in Kent in the years 1826-1835 and the local landscape characteristics were repeated in Palmers images. Among the more important works of this period include Bright Cloud and Skylark, he like his early works created as an oil painting. At that time he belonged to a group of friendly painters, " The Ancients " called themselves.
After he had married in 1839 a daughter of John Linnell, she led her honeymoon to Italy, where he spent two years engaged in painting studies and multiplies the painting was dedicated with water colors. This learned his works also a change in style, since he created henceforth rather academic, conventional works in a completely different style.
After his return he became in 1843 first Associate Member, 1854 before being elected him a member of the Royal Watercolour Society. His watercolors are characterized by an excellent representation of landforms from and through the mastery of rich, light but resounding colors. Among the best and most important pictures that created Palmer in these years include the magnificent series of illustrations for reprints from John Milton's L' Allegro and Il Penseroso books.
In 1853 he was also elected a member of the English Etching Club and devoted himself also etchings. In view of his recognition and his success in this art, however, the number of his etchings is ringed. They are not faster, graphic way, but rather truthful and complete in its tonality. They included many of the features of other engraving direction as a mezzotint engraving or woodcut. Easily accessible and at the same time complete etchings as Early Ploughman 's Cottage and Herdman appeared in the textbook Etching and Etchers.
1861 Palmer moved to Reigate, where he later died. Among his last works was a series of etchings to illustrate an English-language edition of Virgil's Eclogues, which was published in 1883, and contained, in addition etchings and reproductions of his watercolors images. Some of the etchings contained therein have been completed by his son, AH Palmer.
In the next few decades came Palmer and his works largely forgotten. To a rediscovery occurred only during the Second World War by neo-romantic painters such as Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and John Minton, who looked a little much in his works English with surrealist overtones.