Ian Armstrong and the Whitehorse Connection

Ian Armstrong was a prolific modernist painter, printmaker and ceramicist, renowned for his portraits, landscapes and genre works.  Born in Malvern in 1923, he left school early to work as a blacksmith. Later, in 1940, after discovering a passion for art, he began study at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology three nights a week and on Saturday mornings under Murray Griffin.

By 1943 he was attending evening classes at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, under William Rowell. He also took art lessons at the George Bell School, and life drawing classes at Victorian Artists Society until 1950.  

Ian won the Jubilee Travelling Scholarship in 1951 and travelled by ship with Fred Williams to Europe, to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.  He later taught art at Collingwood and Sandringham Technical School until 1961, before being appointed Drawing Master at National Gallery School working with John Brack. After leaving the National Gallery School in 1966 Armstrong worked full time on his art, holding over 60 solo exhibitions and is represented in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection and most Australian state and regional galleries. 

Ian Armstrong
Left: Ian Armstrong (1923-2005) Portrait of Emily Hope 1979, oil on canvas, 100.0 x 81.5. Acquired by the Whitehorse Art Collection in 2003.
Right: Ian Armstrong (1923 - 2005) Portrait of Maeve Wood 1965, oil on canvas, 156.0 x 95.0. Gifted by Maggie and Lachlan Shaw 2017.

Ian and his wife Kathleen, lived in Blackburn for many years with their three children where he continued to create art and teach in his studio. After periods living in Wedderburn Victoria, he made overseas trips to Paris in particular, and interstate, eventually moving to Angelsea for ten years. Ian and Kath later returned to Whitehorse to live in Vermont, where he lived and painted until his death in 2005.

This beguiling Portrait of Emily Hope (above) is indicative of Armstrong’s large scale portraiture in which the pose is as important as the subject’s face. This portrait highlights the fine fingers of Emily as a jewellery maker, artist and writer, who was also the daughter of A.D Hope, the celebrated Australian poet. We see in this portrait, the concern on Emily’s face, and later understand Ian’s attuned capture of his subject as we learn that Emily died just a few months later from a rare cancer.

The second portrait shown here, is of Maeve Wood, an artist with a long association with Armstrong through their studies at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School in Melbourne in the ‘40s and early 1950s, and the George Bell Art School. Maeve and Ian later became neighbours in leafy Blackburn, continuing their friendship until Maeve sold her Robin Boyd home in 1966 and moved to Sydney to live.

Ian’s Portrait of Maeve Wood was painted in 1965 employing his signature seated pose in portraits. Maeve painted, made films, and studied philosophy at the University of Sydney before moving to The Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, and who now lives interstate. This work was gifted to the Whitehorse Art Collection by Armstrong’s daughter and son in law, Maggie and Lachlan Shaw.

As a significant local artist, Armstrong’s work was highly revered and both works showcased here were greatly welcome additions to the Whitehorse Art Collection.