(Fallowfield, Manchester, 19 October 1832 - 24 April 1911, Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire)
In 1881, Armstrong was appointed director for art at the South Kensington (now Victoria and Albert) Museum in succession to Sir Edward J. Poynter, R.A., and he promptly made his influence felt on the methods of teaching. He held that so rarely were the talents of the craftsman and designer to be found united in the same pupil, that it was the duty of technical schools to recognise the independence of the two capacities, while applying art to industry in every branch of teaching. Before his appointment to South Kensington he guided and instructed Miss Jekyll in her efforts to establish at Chelsea a school for art needlework for the first time in this country, efforts which were amply justified by the results. In his official capacity he continued to work on the same lines. He warmly supported the efforts of Walter Copland Perry [q. v.] to supply art students with an adequate representation of antique sculpture, and developed and carried out the plans of his predecessor (Sir) Edward Poynter, for a museum of casts. To his initiative also was due the revival of the art of English enamelling, under Professor Dalpeyrat in 1886. He was a warm supporter of the School of Art Wood-carving, which, though not officially countenanced or aided by the department, received the active support of its chief, Sir John Donnelly [q. v.], to whose place as chairman of the committee Armstrong succeeded in 1902. But it was by the personal interest which he took in the pupils' work, scattered though it was all over the country, that Armstrong's services to art and its application to industry must be gauged. He made himself acquainted with the requirements of each district, the special aptitudes of the students and the lines on which they needed help and guidance. It was owing to Armstrong's insistence that the Victoria and Albert Museum possesses the reproduction to scale of the Camerino of Isabelle d'Este, the Appartamento Borgia in the Vatican, the dome of the Chapel of St. Peter Martyr at Milan, and the chief room of the Palazzio Madama at Rome and other works works representing the highest period of the Italian renaissance and invaluable to students of decorative art. With the same object he applied himself to the acquisition of works of art for the museum having an educational value or bearing upon the development of artistic taste and feeling. His colloquial knowledge of foreign languages, combined with an attractive personality, behind which lay a shrewd sense of business, enabled him not only to purchase and acquire for the museum many important works, but to establish friendly relations with the directors and officials of similar museums on the continent, and to attract them to this country to compare and explain their methods. Armstrong retired from South Kensington in 1898, when he was made C.B. Thereupon he took up painting again, and devoted himself especially to the execution of a mural tablet in plaster and copper which was placed in the church at Abbots Langley to the memory of his only child the subjects of the panels being a Riposo and Christ and the doctors.
Armstrong died suddenly at Abbots Langley on 24 April 1911, and was buried there. On 22 April 1881, he married Mary Alice, daughter of Colonel Brine of Shaldon, Devon.
[The Times, 26 April 1911; Graves's Royal Academy Exhibitors; Art Journal, 1891 with portrait; Dictionary of national biography, Volume: 2, Pt.1, 1912 supplement, Sir Sidney Lee, ed.; Journal Royal Institute of British Architects, (1909-1910);]
Thomas Armstrong, C. B. A memoir. 1832-1911
View painter's work: Thomas Armstrong (1832-1911)