Institutional Collection

Private Collection

Eric Kennington (1888 - 1960)

The Searchlight, 1943

SKU: 11668

Height – 73cm
Width – 53cm


Eric Henri Kennington, Homer House, Ipsden, Checkendon, Oxon where it remained by descent to Christopher Kennington (son of Eric) until 2015.
Atkinson Art Gallery, Southport, 1946; The Face of Courage: Eric Kennington, Portraiture and the Second World War, Royal Air Force Museum, 2012
Jonathan Black, The Face of Courage: Eric Kennington, Portraiture and the Second World War, Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, 2011

The Searchlight, completed in 1943 is an extremely rare example of Kennington’s wartime work. Eric Kennington was one of a small number of artists to be employed as a British official war artist in both world wars. Having established his reputation during the First World War – with masterpieces such as The Kensingtons at Laventie, now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum – the artist was an obvious choice.

Kennington was employed by the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC), the body that oversaw the British official war art scheme, from December 1939. He produced a number of pastel portraits of Royal Navy officers, before he was personally commissioned to do work for the Ministry of Information by Edwin Embleton. Darracott and Loftus describe how in both wars “his drawings and letters show him to be an admirer of the heroism of ordinary men and women”, an admiration which is particularly notable in the poster series “Seeing it Through”.However, Kennington resigned his commission in 1942, as he felt the WAAC were failing to capitalise upon the propaganda value of his work. What is more, he grew continually more frustrated that a commission to the Front Line never arrived.

According to the artist’s son, Christopher, it was at the insistence of Celandine Kennington (1886-1975) that The Searchlight be withheld and not handed over to the War Artist’s Advisory Committee. Kennington rated the picture highly, so agreed and it remained in his study at Eden Cottage until his death in 1960. Celandine moved the painting to the drawing room after his death, where it remained until her passing in 1975 and continued to remain until their son, Christopher Kennington, died in 2015.

The Searchlight belongs to a small series of works Kennington produced between mid-1942 and early 1944 in which he explored figurative symbolism heightened by a near-Expressionist density of colour. This pastel demonstrates the artist’s superb control of the medium.

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Eric Kennington
1888 - 1960

Sculptor, draughtsman and painter. Born in London, son of the artist
Thomas Benjamin Kennington, he studied at Lambeth School of Art
(1906-08) and afterwards at the City and Guild School. He exhibited at
the RA from 1920; and also showed at Leicester Galleries, Fine Art
Society, Goupil Gallery, ROI and RP. Kennington was an Official War
Artist, 1916-19, after being invalided out of the army in June 1915.
The experience was to have a marked influence on his work: his first
one-man show at the Goupil Gallery, April-October 1916, of the
Kensingtons at Laventie, created a great impression and identified him
in the public mind with depictions of men of action. Soon after the war
he travelled in Jordan and Syria (March-May 1921) to illustrate T. E.
Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. During World War II he produced two
books: Drawing the RAF, 1942, and Britain’s Home Guard, 1945. He was
elected RA in 1959 and died at Reading, Berkshire the following year.
His work is represented in the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate.
His public sculptural commissions include the Great War memorial at
Soissons, France, five relief panels for the Shakespeare Memorial
Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, and a stone relief for the Harold Cohen
Memorial Library, University of Liverpool. Between 1936 and 1939
Kennington carved his masterpiece: a recumbent effigy of his great
friend T. E. Lawrence. During the last fifteen years of his life, he
concentrated on producing sculptures for church interiors. He signed
his work ‘Eric H. Kennington’ (1907 – circa 1915) and ‘EHK’,

Selected literature
Jonathan Black, The Sculpture of Eric Kennington, Lund Humphries, 2002

With thanks to


Eric Kennington (1888 - 1960)
The Searchlight, 1943