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Edward Armitage

Retribution (1858)


Oil On Canvas

Armitage's art training was undertaken in Paris, where he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in October 1837. He studied under the history painter, Paul Delaroche, who at that time was at the height of his fame. Armitage was one of four students selected to assist Delaroche with the fresco Hemicycle in the amphitheatre of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, when he reputedly modelled for the head of Masaccio.

Whilst still in Paris, he exhibited Prometheus Bound in 1842, which a contemporary critic described as 'well drawn but brutally energetic'.

In 1843 Armitage returned to London, where he entered the competition for the decoration of the new Houses of Parliament at Westminster, the old Houses of Parliament having been destroyed by fire in 1834. To organise and oversee this project, a Royal Commission had been appointed in 1841, the President of which was Queen Victoria's new Consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Decorations were to be executed in fresco and were to illustrate subjects from British history or from the works of Spenser, Shakespeare or Milton. Competitions were held for appropriate designs ('cartoons'), with a number of leading artists commissioned to take part. The first competition entries were unveiled in Westminster Hall in the summer of 1843 and attracted considerable attention from the public.

Armitage's cartoon, The Landing of Julius Caesar in Britain, secured one of the three first prizes of 300 pounds. He won a further prize in 1845 in a subsequent Westminster competition for his cartoon The Spirit of Religion. Although neither of these cartoons was executed in fresco, Armitage did execute two frescoes in the Poets' Gallery off the Upper Waiting Hall: The Thames and its Tributaries (also referred to as The Personification of the Thames) (1852), from the poetry of Alexander Pope; and The Death of Marmion (1854), from Sir Walter Scott's poem.

Unfortunately frescoes were ill-suited to the atmosphere of 19th-century London, and many started to disintegrate almost as soon as they were completed.

Article By: Dave Roberts.

First Published: 2007.



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