New show turns spotlight on Kenneth Rowntree

Dulwich Picture Gallery launched a long overdue show of watercolours
by Eric Ravilious (1903-42) last week, an artist unswayed by fashion
whose paintings and designs encapsulate the spirit of inter-War

But while the work of Ravilious and Edward Bawden, his fellow
student at the Royal College of Art, is enjoying fever pitch interest,
that of their contemporary and friend Kenneth Rowntree (1915-97)
remains a little more obscure.

Art dealers Paul Liss and Sacha Llewellyn, who together form
Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, and Harry Moore-Gwyn have long felt that
Rowntree’s work should be reassessed, and for the past five years
have been working on putting together a major exhibition of his work.
The result, Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997) – A Centenary Exhibition,
opened last week, along with an accompanying book, at The Fry
Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, where it will stay until July 12. Then,
from July 22 to October 18 it transfers to the Pallant House Gallery in
Chichester before moving to The Redfern Gallery in London’s Cork
Street from October 20 to November 7, during which works will be
available for sale.

As Moore-Gwyn, Liss and Llewellyn write in the foreword to the new
book: “Rowntree’s early work reflects the inspiration and creative
dialogue that came out of his friendship with Eric Ravilious (1903-
42) on account of whom Rowntree moved to Great Bardfield during
the 1940s. During this period he was particularly preoccupied with
Kenneth Clark’s “Recording Britain project.”

Like Bawden and Ravilious, Rowntree worked as an artist, graphic
artist and illustrator. Born in Scarborough, he studied at the Ruskin
School, Oxford, then the Slade, going on to work on Recording
Britain and then as an official war artist.

It was in 1941 that he moved to Great Bardfield, an Essex village that
was home to a number of figurative artists, including Bawden and
Ravillious, during the mid 20th century. Here in 1945 he produced
his well known School Print, Tractor in Landscape, which features
in the show alongside numerous oil paintings, watercolours and
collages, illustrations and designs for textiles, murals, ceramics
and publications such as Vogue. Rowntree went on to teach at the
Royal College of Art and Newcastle University in the 1950s and ’60s,
teaching and working alongside a generation of abstract and Pop
artists. The exhibition includes his own later abstract works and
mixed-media Pop art assemblages from the 1960s-80s.

The Fry Art Gallery opened in 1985 to promote the work of the
artists of nearby Great Bardfield. Alongside the Rowntree show,
until October they are hosting a 30th anniversary exhibition of
paintings, prints, ceramics, books, designs and objects produced
by Great Bardfield artists since the early 1930s.