Plymouth from Mount Edgecombe, English School

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George Denholm Armour, OBE (1864-1949)

He was an animal painter and cartoonist, was born at Waterside, Lanarkshire on the 30th January 1864, the son of a cotton broker. His early years were spent in Liverpool, but he returned to Scotland for schooling in Fife. After attending St Andrews University, he moved to Edinburgh, where he studied at the School of Art and the RSA Schools. There he came under the influence of the animal painter and Academician, Robert Alexander and the two of them traveled to Tangiers to paint, hunt and also to buy cheap horses, only returning when their money ran out. He then moved to London, where he shared a studio with the Graphic and Punch illustrator Phil May

It was on a subsequent hunting and painting expedition to Tangier that he met Joseph Crawhall (1861-1913), who remained a bosom friend until the latter’s untimely death at the age of 51. Both hunting mad, upon their return to England the two friends ran a small stud at a farmhouse in Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire. They painted, hunted and roistered together and Crawhall continued to influence his friend’s work; the household only broke up in 1898, when Armour married, with Crawhall standing as best man.

Although always a fine draughtsman, it was after he met Crawhall that Armour developed the subtle but strong drawing style seen in his work for Punch and other publications. He was first illustrated in The Graphic in 1890, while sharing the studio with Phil May and from 1894 concentrated largely on his cartoon work. Introduced to the magazine by May, he contributed to Punch for 35 years, although never entirely abandoning his hunting and shooting watercolours and washes. Armour travelled to New York and Long Island in June 1913, to cover the International Polo Tournament for Country Life.

In 1910, Armour visited Austro-Hungary to study military equestrian procedures at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. During the Great War he commanded the army’s remount depot in Salonika, from 1917-19. For this he was appointed OBE in 1919.

His love of the outdoors, horses, hunting, racing, shooting, stalking and his work are interwoven. When hunting he always carried a sketchbook, while his total commitment to his horses led to his converting half his studio into a stable. It is this great enthusiasm and deep knowledge which lends so many of his animal portrayals their power and flowing movement, just as his sense of humour, wit and keen observation of outdoor pursuits give his cartoon illustrations their appeal. Caw states that in comparison to the works of other exponents of the pictured ‘sporting joke’, in ‘draughtsmanship and design they are incomparably finer.’

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