H. H. Armstead is most familiar through two key works of architectural sculpture in London – half of the 169-figure frieze on the Albert Memorial, and some of the allegorical and portrait figures on the much-decorated Foreign and Colonial Office in Whitehall.
He was both a sculptor and a silversmith, and was born in London. He trained under his father, a heraldic chaser, and then at the School of Design at Somerset House, under Leigh (at the instigation of the Pre-Raphaelite Holman Hunt) and Carey, and then the Royal Academy Schools. For some years he worked mainly on decorative work in silver for the silversmiths Hunt and Roskell, and did a very little (but very good) illustrative work. He then turned entirely to sculpture. He was elected ARA in 1875, RA some four years later, and taught in the Academy Schools himself for a period. His naturalistic figures to some extent foreshadowed the New Sculpture Movement, and among his pupils were T. Nelson Maclean and A. C. Lucchesi.
Portion of the Albert Memorial frieze by Armstead.
As noted above, Armstead's major work was some 80 figures for the podium of the Albert Memorial, which he executed at the rate of about 10 a year. Second only to this was his architectural sculpture for the Foreign and Colonial Office in Whitehall, where he is responsible for allegorical figures of the Continents and others, and 8 Colonial Secretaries up above. In both these works, he shared the figural sculptures with J. Birnie Philip.
Armstead designed various other friezes and illustrative panels, some of which are very much in the New Sculpture vein. But much of his remaining oeuvre consists of free-standing figures and lots of church monuments. In London, as well as the architectural sculpture already mentioned, are his niche figures for the reredos of Westminster Abbey, Bishop Wilberforce for Westminster Cathedral, the monument to Street in the Law Courts, a mosaic - the Applied Mechanics part of the exterior frieze on the Albert Hall, and a pair of figures on a building in Northumberland Avenue (off Trafalgar Square). Tate Britain has an excellent allegorical girl entitled Remorse, alas, rarely on show. Outside London we may pick out the figure of Aristotle for a pillar in the Oxford University Museum, the fountain for King's College Cambridge, and Archdeacon Moore and Dean Howard for Lichfield Cathedral. And a final mention to his rather elegant high relief panel of his daughter, Lottie Armstead, in Cardiff’s National Museum of Wales.
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