Arthur Armstrong (1924 - 1996)

Little Girl with Pram c.1940s

Oil on board

Private collection

Born in Carrickfergus in 1924, Arthur Armstrong, the son of a house-painter, was sketching from the age of four. After studying architecture at Queen's University Belfast, he enrolled in evening classes at the Belfast College of Art but remained there less than a year. Armstrong was primarily self-taught but this brief spell at art college was significant as it was there that he met other artists based in Belfast such as George MacCann, Dan O'Neill and Gerard Dillon.

In his early career Armstrong had to take up several clerical jobs to support himself but by the 1950s he was able to make a living from his paintings, which were exhibited in Belfast and Dublin. Around this time a scholarship was awarded to Armstrong by CEMA, the forerunner of the Arts Council, which allowed Armstrong to travel to Spain.

In the 1960s, he settled in Dublin, where he shared a house for a time with his friend Gerard Dillon. In 1968, he was awarded the Douglas Hyde Gold Medal at the Oireachtas Exhibition and in 1973 he was awarded the Art in Context prize from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which held a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1981. Armstrong influenced many Irish artists from the younger generation through his part-time teaching role at the National College of Art. He died in Dublin in 1996.

Armstrong's early work is less well-known than his later landscapes and is often more narrative-based. The formal simplification of this work integrates the figure and pram with their surroundings, giving each a sense of physical solidity. While the girl and the pram interior are connected by the same blue tones, the image carries a sense of weight and exhaustion. Like Kenneth Mahood's Street Scene, this is a modernist reinvention of the urban motifs of William Conor, expressing a particular mood with a new visual vocabulary. Little Girl with Pram was included in an exhibition of six contemporary painters at the CEMA gallery in Belfast in 1948.