Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997)   BIOGRAPHY

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West Front, Durham, 1976
Unframed (ref: 6465)
Signed and numbered by the artist
Screenprint on paper
48 x 49 cm


Provenance: The Artist's Family

Literature: John Milner, Kenneth Rowntree, Lund Humphries, 2002, p. 43, illustrated (pl. 31); Kenneth Rowntree, A Centenary Exhibition, Moore-Gwyn Fine Art and Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, 2015, Cat. 42, p.83

Exhibited: Fry Art Gallery, Kenneth Rowntree, A Centenary Exhibition, 2015, no 8

Like several of his contemporaries, John Piper in particular, Rowntree loved painting scenes that enabled him to incorporate decorative lettering;  he exploited this to the full in his Recording Britain watercolours, especially in his depiction of tombstones in the graveyard at Barnston, Essex and the interior of St Mary’s Church, Whitby, with its great panels from the Book of Exodus - the capitals picked out in red - exhorting the congregation to have ‘none other Gods but me.’   In the immediate post-war years some well-placed publishers’ commissions, particularly those from Collins and from Marghanita Laski at Pilot Books, enabled him to exploit his penchant for lettering;  while others, too, noted his responsiveness both to subject matter and mood as reflected in such covers as the King Penguin A Prospect of Wales .    He also received commissions from the BBC - for a Jubilee cover for The Listener - from Shell, and from various advertising agents, with his talent for inventiveness and playfulness in the field of graphic design achieving its apogee in his four 1950 Vogue cover designs - Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter -  which, to the public’s loss, were never used.   It is in these designs above all that the sensitiveness of his aesthetic antennae is most apparent.   Although both in his painting and his design work he was seldom totally original, he was always acutely aware of what was appropriate for the job and alert to every nuance of taste.   When appropriate he would, with humour, tip his hat to Nicholson, Piper or Peggy Angus, make a genuflection to Ravilious or raise a glass to Surrealism, but at the same time all his designs whether for murals, textiles, advertising material, or book and magazine covers remain unmistakably and uniquely Kenneth Rowntrees.    
Peyton Skipwith, Kenneth Rowntree - A Centenary, 2015

Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997)

Painter, illustrator, artist in collage and murals, draughtsman and teacher, born in Scarborough, Yorkshire. He studied at the Ruskin School of Drawing, Oxford, under Albert Rutherston, 1934–35, and at the Slade under Randolph Schwabe. During World War II he participated in the Pilgrim Trust Recording Britain project and was an Official War Artist. He had his first one-man exhibition at Leicester Galleries in 1946; other one-man shows followed at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Zwemmer Gallery, New Art Centre, and the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with a retrospective at Hatton Gallery there in 1980. In 1949 he became a tutor at RCA, a post he held until 1958. In 1959 he became Professor of Fine Arts, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, succeeding Lawrence Gowing; he held the position until 1980. In 1992 a touring retrospective was organinsed, starting in Newtown. Group shows included NEAC, AIA and RSW. He became a member of the Society of Mural Painters in 1943, taught mural painting at the Royal College of Art for 10 years from 1948, and received a Ford Foundation Grant to visit America in 1959. In 1948 he illustrated A Prospect of Wales. Murals completed include those for Barclay School, Stevenage, 1946, RMS Orsova and Iberia, 1954, and the British Pavilion at Brussels International Exhibition in 1958. In 1951 he painted murals for the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion at the Festival of Britain. Tate, Victoria & Albert Museum and WAC are among many public owners of his work. Rowntree’s pictures reflect the genial and witty nature of the artist, usually being landscapes and townscapes in which the elements have a toy-like neatness and familiar notations are employed. In the post-war years he also painted a considerable number of abstract (and semi-abstract) works. His work is sometimes signed with just his initials. He lived at Corbridge, Northumberland.

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