Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997)   BIOGRAPHY

Lamplight, 1945
Framed (ref: 6788)
Oil on board
9 3/4 x 13 3/4 in. (25 x 35 cm.)


Provenance: The Artist's Estate

Literature: John Milner, Kenneth Rowntree, Lund Humphries, 2002, p.34

Exhibited: The Leceister Galleries, November 1946.

Lamplight was included amongst the 61 pictures exhibited at the Leceister Galleries in November 1946, Rowntree's first one-man show, comprising works painted between 1938 and 1946. Reviewing the show The Times commented, ‘he has a remarkable gift for making a cheerful and attractive composition out of commonplace objects’ but ‘there is not much room for subtlety in his approach.’ This was surely to ignore the allure of Rowntree’s combination of subject and technique, evoking the visual stimulus of things seen as surprising moments of beauty, from bright sunlight on a simple tabletop still 
life to a sudden shower of rain across a dark and featureless landscape. It is an 
epicurean enjoyment of things for their own sake, accepting them as they are and 
offering this quietest but sensual vision to others.

According to Eric Newton, who evidently wanted something different, the 11 
painters in another Wildenstein mixed exhibition in January 1945 could be 
‘arranged from right to left, with Edward Le Bas on the right, linking up with 
Bonnard and the Impressionism, and Kenneth Rowntree on the left, vaguely 
holding hands with the British tradition of illustrative painting.’ This, as Newton 
went on to explain, was essentially the Euston Road School ten years on, and 
‘placid refinement is the keynote.’ This is a negative way of seeing Rowntree as a 
figure of compromise. The introduction text to a group exhibition at the City of 
Leicester Gallery early in 1946 by Trevor Thomas got closer to understanding 
the strength of his work as ‘a desire to return to the primitive … a longing for an 
original innocence before taste and feeling were polluted and vitiated by 
industrial living.’ Yet while Rowntree spent much of the war painting relics of 
older times, he was not simply guided by nostalgia, and seldom edited out the 
signs of modern life when these occurred, relishing the jolt of anachronism and 
geometrical order they could bring. He did not pursue primitivism to the extent 
of breaking the conventions of scale and perspective, and his self-aware 
innocence should perhaps be attributed rather to a combination of personal 
preference and belief with a general enthusiasm for the fresh vision of folk art 
shared by many artist contemporaries, Alan Powers, Kenneth Rowntree A Centenary Exhibition, p 36

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.

See all works by Kenneth Rowntree