(b London, 20 May 1817; d Tunbridge Wells, Kent, 24 May 1896).
English painter. He came from a wealthy Leeds family owning estates
and coal mines. Private means enabled him to study in Paris at the
Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Paul Delaroche from 1835 to 1842. He
gained valuable experience assisting Delaroche on the decoration of
the hemicycle at the Ecole, adopting his master’s correct style of
drawing. His first exhibit at the Salon was Prometheus Unbound (c.
1842; untraced), described by a contemporary critic as ‘well drawn
but brutally energetic’. On his return to England Armitage won a
premium for his cartoon Caesar’s First Invasion of Britain (c. 1843)
in the competition to decorate the new Houses of Parliament.
Subsequently he carried out two frescoes (now in poor condition) in
the House of Lords: The Personification of the Thames from Pope and
The Death of Marmion from Scott. In 1847 Queen Victoria purchased
his painting The Battle of the Meeanee (1847; London, St James’s
Pal., Royal Col.). Apart from classical and biblical subjects,
Armitage painted some contemporary events from the Crimean War and
also the strikingly large Retribution (2.67*2.89 m, 1858; Leeds,
C.A.G.), an allegory depicting the suppression of the Indian Mutiny
of 1857. Armitage was elected ARA in 1867, RA in 1872 and professor
and lecturer in painting in 1875. His lectures on painting,
published in 1883, placed history painting at the summit of art.
This ideal he followed in his own full-scale compositions, correctly
drawn, with a fine sense of colouring. He was well placed to paint
scenes of Empire but never quite realized his early potential in the
hierarchy of late Victorian artists.
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