Born in Hastings, Sussex, John was the third son of a clergyman, and his early years were spent in West Dean, near Goodwood. He studied law at St John's College, Oxford and then St John's Wood School of Art in London before and after the 1914-18 war, enlisting in the Royal Field Artillery during the conflict. During WWII he was an Official War Artist.
In 1945, Armstrong moved to Oriental Cottage, Lamorna in Cornwall, which was a cottage belonging to his second wife, Veronica Sibthorpe. He remained engaged in painting surrealist murals for the London stage which he had been successful with, both for stage and film. Special friends were Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton.
In Cornwall he joined with John TUNNARD, Peter LANYON and others irritated by the division of art into categories of figurative and non-figurative by the Penwith Society, and began to show his work at NAG, becoming a re-invigorating force within the NSA which they all joined. Armstrong served on the organising Committee of the Newlyn Society of Artists until 1955 when he resigned from both the Society and the Committee, due to leaving Cornwall.
In the early 1950s when Armstrong had been commissioned to paint the ceiling mural for the Bristol Council House, he did this work on canvas in the lower front room of NAG (where administration offices are today) which he contracted to rent for a year (1954). The canvas was so large that it had to be wound around three giant rollers, from which it was unwound as needed and painted a section at a time. An assistant for the year was a young woman named Mary COLLETT, who has continued as a painter in her own right. Later the canvas was 'marouflayed' (stuck) to the Council House ceiling where it remains.
In 1955 he returned to London, divorcing from Sibthorpe, remarrying thereafter to this third wife, Annette. Armstrong was made an Associate of the RA in 1966. He also painted murals for the Royal Marsden Hospital. Precise but muted in colour, his symbolist qualities are keynotes of his style, and always his work was abstract, upon occasion surrealist.
In 1989, a painting by John Armstrong, from the Permanent Collection of NAG, Veronica as Harlequin, was chosen for the Cornwall County Council Exhibition, 'A Century of Art in Cornwall 1889-1989' in which 140 paintings executed in Cornwall over the 100 year period were shown. The painting had been given to NAG by Frankie FREETH, another artist who had served with Armstrong on the NAG committee, and a close friend and partner to his ex-wife Veronica.
Painter, interior design & ceramic decoration, theatre design; painter of murals, portraiture
works and access
Access to works: Bristol Council chamber: ceiling with mural (1955); Newlyn Orion Gallery Permanent Coll: Veronica as Harlequin (See Hardie 1995 100 Years, p 158 illus); Royal Marsden Hospital mural, Sutton, Surrey (1961); Tate On-line (4); RA: Victory
1948: Chappell House Hotel, Chapel St, Penzance (2 works);
1948-55: Mixed shows at NAG
1975: RA Memorial exhibition (on tour to Plymouth 24 May- 22 June; Preston 28 June - 27 July; Newcastle-upon-Tyne 2-31 Aug)
1989: 'A Century of Art in Cornwall 1889-1989' (1 work)
2017: John Armstrong - Dream & Reality, Penlee House Gallery, Penzance (16 Sept-18 Nov)
NSA (resigned 1955), ARA,
misc further info
Correspondence in file: Jonathan Gibbs, researcher.
Buckman (2006) Dictionary of Artists in Britain
Hardie (1995) 100 Years in Newlyn: Diary of a Gallery (illus of Veronica as Harlequin p158)
Lambirth (2009) John Armstrong: The Paintings
Lamorna Society (website)
Paisnel Gallery Exhibition catalogue (2009) Post-War and St Ives;
Popp & Valentine RA Directory of Membership 1768-1995
Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly: Oil Paintings in Public Ownership
RA (1977) British Painting 1952-77
Tate On-line (4 works);
Tovey (2022) Lamorna - An Artistic, Social and Literary History - Volume II - Post-1920, Wilson Books
Wormleighton (1995) A Painter Laureate: SJ Lamorna Birch and his circle;