Caroline Armington created Canadian War Memorials Collection in WWI
An artist with immense talent in etching, Caroline Armington was commissioned in 1918 to create artwork for the Canadian War Memorials Collection.
Emanating from her light and intricate touch, the artworks created by Caroline H. Armington captured the essence of the serene urban scenes. The hands that created memorable art through the delicate use of paints, brushes and etching equipment were also the hands that carefully tended to patients in hospitals and private care.
Armington an Artist and a Trained Nurse
On September 11, 1875, Caroline Helena Wilkinson was born in Brampton, Ontario. At 15 years of age, Wilkinson studied art under John Wycliffe Lowes Forster, a renowned Canadian portrait artist living in Toronto. While training under Forster, Wilkinson met a fellow student that caught her attention. Frank Milton Armington was from Fordwich, about 60 miles northwest of Brampton. “By 1892 she was supporting herself with her art,” said Canadian Women Artists History Initiative: Artist Database by Concordia University, “but as well as being an artist she also trained at Guelph General Hospital as a nurse.”
Art Studies and Marriage
Taking a nursing job in New York City in 1899, Wilkinson worked at Miss Alston’s Hospital. The young woman returned to Canada shortly after, working as a private nurse for clients in Toronto. While using her nursing work to support herself, Wilkinson’s art career was still in her sights. The next year, she travelled to Paris, France to study at the private art school Ácadémie Julian. The Ácadémie was an alternative art school, training students not interested or able to enrol in École des Beaux-Arts – in its early years, women were not permitted to attend the famous Beaux-Arts school. The young Frank Armington was also in France studying at the Ácadémie. Caroline married Frank, becoming Mrs. Armington while in Paris.
“The couple returned to Toronto, and in 1901 moved first to Sault Ste. Marie, and then to Winnipeg,” said Concordia University. Armington painted, giving private lessons and teaching at the private girls’ school, Havergal. In 1905, the Armingtons packed up their art supplies and belongings and moved to France to make Paris their permanent home. Enrolling at Ácadémie de la Grande Chaumière, Caroline Armington honed her artistic skills in the French nation.
Etchings of European Architecture, Landscapes
Devoting a large portion of her talents to etching, “Armington started to etch scenes in Paris, eventually etching scenes in England, Germany, and Italy, specializing in architectural and landscape etchings,” stated Luther College in the biography of “Caroline Helene Armington.” The National Gallery of Canada purchased several striking Armington etchings in 1910 and 1911 for their collection. Her work was exhibited in London and in the prestigious Salon in Paris in 1911 and 1912. At approximately the same time, Caroline accepted a commission from the Canadian Pacific Railway company. She and her husband travelled across Canada on the mission, producing a number of artworks. The results were published in a book entitled “Sixty Days in Canada.” A few years later, Armington dusted off her health-care skills, providing nursing service to the American Ambulance Unit stationed in Paris during World War One.
War Art Commission in 1918
During the Great War, Lord Beaverbrook commissioned Armington to create images for the Canadian War Memorials Collection. (A wealthy Canadian living in England, Lord Beaverbrook employed artists and photographers to record the historic events for posterity. Knighted and elevated to the British Peerage, William Maxwell Aitken became Lord Beaverbrook in 1915.) “Following her appointment, she [Armington] subsequently produced a full edition of prints, many of which reflected her skill with architectural subject matter,” according to Archives of Ontario.
The Armingtons Held Joint Exhibits
Expanding her subject material, Armington made etchings of churches and cathedrals in France. Her first solo exhibit of paintings was displayed in Paris in 1923. Another exhibit was held in New York City the next year at the Ralston Gallery. More exhibits followed in the United States with Armington’s work shown along with her husband Frank Armington’s classic paintings. Armington donated approximately 20 etchings to the Des Moines Association of Fine Arts in 1924. She was following family tradition; her husband had donated nearly 30 of his etchings to the New York Public Library nine years earlier. The husband and wife duo held a joint exhibit in 1929 in the Art Gallery of Toronto.
Producing over 500 etchings, Caroline Armington’s fine art is a treasured part of many collections
including the National Gallery of Canada, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and galleries in France. Moved to the United States several years earlier, the prolific artist died in New York City on October 25, 1939. Caroline Helena Armington was 64 years old. Two years later, Frank Armington died at age 65 in New York City.
- “Canadian Women Artists History Initiative: Artist Database,” Concordia University Accessed July 6, 2011
- “Caroline Helena Armington,” Luther College Accessed July 6, 2011
- Archives of Ontario Accessed July 6, 2011
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in July 2011. (C) Susanna McLeod