George Balmer was born in Northumberland in 1805 to a house and ship painter, George Balmer, and Ann Reed. Continuing in the work of his father, Balmer worked in Edinburgh as a house painter before deciding to leave the business and be an artist. His first work was exhibited in Newcastle in 1826, and moved to the city in 1831 for two years before heading to London where he exhibited more works. In 1834, Balmer travelled around Holland and Switzerland, a country where he made many studies of the Alps, before ending up in Paris.
He remained in Paris to study at the Louvre for a number of months before returning to London in 1835. He continued to work and exhibit in London until 1842. During this period many of his landscapes were bought by high-profile collectors, and many of his images appear in the book The Ports, Harbours, Watering-Places and Picturesque Scenery of Great Britain.
In 1842 Balmer inherited land in County Durham, and he moved there until his death in 1846, never exhibiting again.