She was born in Brampton, Ontario, in 1875, the second of four children of William and Mary (Crawford) Wilkinson. Her father had a farm implement business in Brampton.
She attended public and high school in Brampton and she took Saturday painting classes in Toronto under J.W.L. Forster who was a cousin of her father. Her parents gave her no financial encouragement for her classes perhaps because she wanted to make her own way.
At the Forster classes she met her future husband, Frank Armington. By 1892 she made her living by teaching art. She soon went after additional security when she became nurse-in-training at the Guelph General Hospital.
Following her graduation she travelled to New York with Frank Armington, his mother and sister who were on their way to Paris. In New York she worked in a hospital and her free time was taken up with visiting museums and galleries. Returning to Toronto she became a private nurse (1899-1900). With enough money saved she left for France to join the Armingtons. Stopping off at London for a week she visited galleries.
In Paris she married Frank Armington (ceremony first at the British Consulate, and then at the American Church). Later the couple returned to Toronto. In 1901 they lived at Sault Ste. Marie, sold the house they built at a good profit and relocated to Winnipeg. There she gave painting lessons while her husband worked for the Winnipeg Tribune then taught at Havergal College for girls.
It was difficult for them to make a steady living from their art in Canada so they finally returned to Paris in 1905. There Caroline studied at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and the Academie Julian under Henri Royer, E. Schommer and Paul Gervais. In 1907 she again worked as a private nurse.
In 1908 she began to etch. In 1909 she returned to the Academie Julian and the same year made etchings in London. In 1910, two years after taking up this medium, the National Gallery of Canada purchased her etching of a small bridge in Bruges, Belgium, and in 1911 two more, one of Paris and one of London.
With her husband she returned to Canada and travelled across the country executing a C.P.R. commission and producing a series of etchings, five of which she later donated to the British Museum. This same year she won a silver medal for her painting Bruges Peasant Woman awarded by the Societe des amis des arts de Seine et Oise in Versailles.
With her husband and her mother they travelled to Italy where she visited Florence. Then she did etchings in Venice. Next the three visited Algeria.
When W.W. I was declared their artistic lives were disrupted and they worked for the American Ambulance Service unit in Paris (Caroline as nurse, Frank as an orderly). During that period Caroline managed to continue etching in her free time. The war had reached Paris from the air and the city was being bombed. Caroline did etchings of various buildings protected by sandbags and was later commissioned by Lord Beaverbrook to do etchings for the Canadian War Memorials collection.
In 1920 she did etchings of famous cathedrals in Chartres, Rheims, Amiens, Rouen and Tours. Her architectural etchings had more detail than her husband’s. She had a certain ability to create the effects of sunlight in her etchings. This year she also published her etchings Twelve Little Views of Paris.
In 1922 both she and her husband contributed a miniature work to Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. In 1923 she was commissioned by the Red Star Line in Antwerp to etch a scene of the ocean liner Belgenland of which 500 impressions were printed.
She held her first solo show of paintings at the Gateries Simonson in Paris. In 1924 she travelled in the U.S. with her husband where they exhibited and promoted their work. She made a sale of between 24 and 130 etchings to T. Eaton Co. (Can.) for resale in Toronto and possibly Winnipeg. In 1929 the Armingtons held their first joint show at the Art Gallery of Toronto.
They continued to travel in France and Italy (1934-5). In 1936, they visited the Holy Land. In Canada a solo show of Caroline’s work was held at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
War returned to Europe and during an air raid on Paris in 1939 Caroline suffered a heart attack. Although not mentioning it to her friends she had suffered this ailment for years. Both artists were now over sixty and suffered heart ailments. The same year, the Armingtons sailed for New York on the Manhattan and three days after their arrival Caroline suffered another attack and died.
During her productive career she managed to make 557 etchings and drypoints. She gave many gifts of her etchings to various museums and galleries in Europe and North America.
Awards and Accomplishments
She was awarded many prizes and honours for her work. After years of obscurity her fine quality of work has received more attention by art historians, critics, dealers and collectors.
Two books have thrown light on the Armington’s personal lives and work:
first a charming publication by McKenzie Brockman entitled, Caroline And Frank Armington, a small book published by the Montreal Print Collectors Society;
a second and later publication was made possible through the efforts of individuals who knew them, historians, curators, plus contacts and resources of the Peel County Historical Society, the Peel County Museum and Art Gallery and the author, Janet Braide who died before the book had been finished. The work was completed over a further two-year period by Nancy Parke-Taylor, entitled Caroline and Frank Armington, Canadian Painter-Etcher in Paris (1990) published by the Art Gallery of Peel.
A third work in the Toronto Star (1990) by Donald Jones for his column “Historical Toronto” made popular the Armington story.
The Armingtons between them produced around 700 prints in editions of fifty, seventy-five and one hundred.
Exhibitions and Shows
Her solo shows include:
Galeries Simpson, Paris (1923)
Ralston Gallery, NYC (1924) (1925-6 travelling)
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Wash., D.C. (1924)
Korner & Wood Co., Cleveland, Ohio (1924)
Roberts Galleries, Tor. (1924); VAG, Van. (1936).
Canada, AEAC, King., Ont.; AGGV, Vic., B.C.; AGH, Hamilton, Ont.; AGO, Tor.; AGNS, Hal., N.S.; AGP, Brampton, Ont. (234+ etchings, 2 paintings); AGW, Winds., Ont.; Glenbow Mus., Calg., Alta.; Nat. Arch.Canada, Ott.: NGC, Ott.; United States: Cleveland Museum of Art; Dayton Art Inst.; Des Moines Art Center; Everson Mus. of Art, Syracuse, NY; Lib. of Congress, Wash.; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; Mus. Fine Arts, Boston: NG of Art, Wash., D.C.; Nelson-Atkins Mus. of Art, Kansas City, Mo.: England: British Museum, Lond.; Victoria & Albert Mus., Lond.; France (Paris): American Church; Biblioth&que Nationale (60 prints); Musee Carnavalet; Musee National d’art moderne; Musee du Louvre; Musee du Petit Palais. Germany: Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Colin S. Macdonald, Dictionary of Canadian Artists. Vol.1 pp. 143-144