Skip to content

Armstrong, Sir Walter

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Armstrong, Sir Walter

    Gender: male

    Date Born: unknown

    Date Died: 08 August 1918

    Place Born: Roxburghshire, Scotland

    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 became 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).

    Selected Bibliography

    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


    Kerry Rork. "Armstrong, Sir Walter." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: