Full Name: Armstrong, Sir Walter
Date Born: unknown
Date Died: unknown
Home Country/ies: United Kingdom
Subject Area(s): British (modern), Dutch (culture or style), eighteenth century (dates CE), painting (visual works), and seventeenth century (dates CE)
Institution(s): National Gallery of Ireland
British historian of English and Dutch Art. Armstrong was the son of Walter Armstrong, a merchant, and his wife, Mary Graham (Armstrong). He was initially educated at the Harrow School, later graduating from Exeter College, Oxford. Armstrong married Jane Emily Rose Ferard of Ascot Place in 1873. In 1880, Armstrong distinguished himself as an art critic, writing for various papers, like Pall Mall Gazette, St. James’s Gazette, Manchester Guardian, and The Examiner. Armstrong became known as an expert in fields such as seventeenth century Dutch painting and eighteenth century British art. Because of this expertise, he was often turned to for advice, particularly from collectors like Samuel S. Joseph (d. 1894). He revised the second volume of Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers (1889). In 1892, Armstrong became the Director of the National Gallery of Ireland, succeeding Henry Edward Doyle (1827-1893) and the first scholar-director. He held this position until 1914. During this time, Armstrong modernized the museum, introducing new practices and revising the museum’s catalogue. During his tenure Armstrong acquired major acquisitions from Dutch and Renaissance paintings, including Mantegna’s Judith and Holofernes and Goya’s Conde de Tajo. He wrote a book of notes on the museum as well. While in Dublin, Armstrong translated and edited Georges Perrot and Charles Chipiez Histoire de l’art dans l’antiquité. Armstrong was widely known for the series of monographs he produced with corresponding catalogues: Gainsborough and His Place in English Art (1894), Sir Joshua Reynolds, First President of the Royal Academy (1900), Sir Henry Raeburn (1901), Turner (1902), and Lawrence (1913). In 1899, Armstrong became honorary member of the Royal Hibernian Academy and was knighted. He died at his home in Westminster, London in 1918.
Armstrong represented an important change in the emphasis of the National Gallery, Ireland, from one focused on art appreciation to one of art history. Succeeding Doyle, who had been an artist, he focused on serious art collections and building projects. Armstrong’s monographs on individual artists–weighty tomes–provided early consolidation of scholarship which later scholars built upon (Garlick).
Gainsborough and his Place in England Art. 1904.; Reynolds. 1900.
Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986 p. 515.
Contributors: Kerry Rork