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Kenneth Rowntree

May 18, 2020

Hello to one and all, I hope this finds you well. I want to start by thanking everyone who dropped into my first Pop Up Shop experience at the weekend over on instagram. It happened under the hashtag #postablepopup and was created by Megan who runs @curatedmakers. I was there as @fishinkblog and it was a successful event. Giving me the opportunity to not only showcase some of my latest ceramics, but also to virtually ‘chat’ to the customers, discover who they were, what they liked about my work and where they planned on being, hung, placed and admired. A great experience. If you missed it, I still have more Fishink Ceramics here and will be adding more in the weeks to come, so do drop back or feel free to direct message me with your requests. I’m also taking part in the @greenwalkopenhouse , another event that had been cancelled due to COVID-19 this coming Saturday between 12 and 4pm GMT, so please drop by.

Ok onto today’s wonderful artist, the legendary Kenneth Rowntree.

He was an artist, designer and teacher who worked in Britain from the 1930s through to the 1990s. Born the son of Howard Doncaster Rowntree, and educated at Bootham School, York. Kenneth was part of the extended, and famous, Quaker Rowntree (confectionery) family. His immediate branch of the family were shopkeepers and business leasers in the Yorkshire seaside resort of Scarborough – where they owned the town’s department store. There’s some interesting background family history here…

The Rowntree Family

He studied at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford and went on to the Slade School of Fine Art. At the Slade he met Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden, moving to north Essex to work more closely with them. They became known – with others – as the Great Bardfield Artists. Here’s one of Bawden’s painting from around the village.

In 1939, Kenneth married architect Diana Rowntree (née Buckley) with whom he had two children.

He painted beautifully tranquil depictions of life around him.

During the Second World War, he worked for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. He was one of more than 60 artists commissioned by the Government and financed by the Pilgrim Trust to record the face of England and Wales before development or wartime destruction changed it.

Amazing to have these scenes catalogued in such a way.

Capturing scenes of devastation and celebration both.

Recording Britain, as this project came to be known, covered a total of 36 counties. Kenneth Rowntree concentrated on capturing the essential character of old buildings and interiors in Bedfordshire, Essex, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Wales.

Ravilious had been one of Rowntree’s tutors at the Ruskin School, Oxford, in the early 1930s and was to remain the single most enduring influence on his design work, with the two men sharing a particularly fascination for letter-forms.   This fascination is evident in a number of the glazed ceramics Rowntree made whilst at the RCA and also in Alphabet (c.1957) his roller-printed glazed cotton design for Edinburgh Weavers, which, with its delightful vignettes, is an unashamed homage to his mentor’s pre-war Wedgwood Alphabet design.
His tribute to Ravilious’s memory with the wallpaper he designed for his own use in the house in Ruvigny Road, Putney, (above top right), to which he and Diana moved in late autumn 1949, in which he juxtaposed enlarged versions of Ravilious wood engravings with engravings by the late eighteenth-century master of the genre, Thomas Bewick, thus creating an elegant eighteenth-century papier peint effect.

After the war he joined the Royal College of Art as head of its mural painting studios. He designed book covers, such as that for King Penguin and created “A Prospect of Wales”.

Kenneth contributed 20 watercolours to the book, covering the landscape and buildings that inhabit it. The painter Clive Hicks-Jenkins has this to say about it.

In 1951 he completed a major mural, Freedom, for the Festival of Britain and two years later painted scenes along the processional route of the Coronation, with the Queen later acquiring some of his works.

In 1953, he painted scenes along the processional route of the Coronation, with the Queen later acquiring some of his works. In 1959, he was appointed to succeed Lawrence Gowing as Professor of Fine Art at Newcastle University; it was one of the most progressive art schools in Britain, where the teaching staff included Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton. He held this post until his retirement in 1980.

It was at Newcastle that he became receptive to various modernist idioms, such as assemblage and constructivist forms, and incorporated them in his own work. He repainted the scene of an outdoor table and dishes, over and over again, everytime slightly changing it’s location and use.

I can’t help but wonder if he had been inspired by Ravilious’s earlier Tea at Furlongs painting from 1939 ?

Amongst many other achievements, Kenneth Rowntree worked with the architect Ernő Goldfinger to produce coloured glass panels in Goldfinger’s Alexander Fleming House (now Metro Central Heights) in the Elephant and Castle. He also created many portraits.

But he’s possibly best remembered for his country scenes.

I particularly like this scene set in the woods of a church. You really feel the crisp autumnal leaves and slightly cool breezes.

In the 1960s Rowntree was elected Professor of Fine Art at University of Newcastle, where he remained until his death in 1997.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2020 2:50 pm

    Excellent, well done…

  2. Tina Barber permalink
    May 20, 2020 9:24 pm

    Really enjoyed your Kenneth Rowntree blog. I was familiar with some of his work but there was much I had never seen before. What a treat. Thank you.

    • May 20, 2020 9:30 pm

      Great to hear it was well received Tina, appreciate your comments.

  3. Alan Powers permalink
    April 30, 2021 5:26 pm

    You can buy sheets of the Alphabet wrapping paper at juddstreetpapers on etsy

  4. david poyser permalink
    January 26, 2023 8:23 am

    I knew Kenneth Rowntree as my MFA personal tutor at Newcastle University. We left at the same time in 1980. I had previously been painting landscapes in the Yorkshire Dales and he seemed to regard me as a kindred spirit. I once accidentally knocked his pipe down his throat when I pushed open the door to his office just as he was about to open it from the other side. The door and pipe collided. I remember that he liked the Victorian painter John Martin and saw something of his dramatically lit landscapes in my paintings. In an abstract sense, it is still there. Kenneth’s own paintings had a quiet pastoral quality that could be said to be the opposite of my own fiery vision, yet they were linked by the English landscape and were perhaps different sides of the same coin.
    David Poyser artist

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