Kenneth Rowntree Part One  (plus a feature on the Friends Meeting House, Great Bardfield).

Kenneth Rowntree ‘Self Portrait.’ 1933.

Kenneth Rowntree (1915 –1997) was born in Scarborough into a Quaker family. Howard, his father managed his family department store and Rowntree’s earliest works were displayed there. Nora Priestman, his mother was a Quaker from Bradford, she was a fine violin player studying at the Royal College of Music.

Rowntree was a pupil at the Downs School Herefordshire but later followed his brothers to the Bootham School, York, particularly enjoying the arts. Having trained originally as a cellist (adopting his mother’s talent for music) he chose art for his future career.

Aged eighteen he next went to study at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford where much of the teaching was done by visiting artists. One such was Barnett Freedman who once told a dim girl ‘If you crossed the road with as much intelligence as you did this drawing you’d be run over.’  Another visiting teacher was Eric Ravilious who became a good friend. ER’s example remained an enduring influence throughout the younger man’s life. Rowntree preferred to develop his ideas in his own studio and gradually dropped out of the Slade. He joined the New English Art Club and began to sell his work at Wildenstein’s, Zwemmer’s and the Leicester Galleries.

Life Study, oil. 1936. Spanish Girl, oil. 1936. Saloon Bar Cat.

Rowntree made frequent visits to Paris and in 1938 completed his first large painting ‘Homage to French Culture in the Nineteenth Century’ featuring portrayals of Rousseau, Degas and Cezanne amongst others.

Rowntree became close to Diana Buckley who joined the Architecture course at the Ruskin in 1934. War was declared against Germany on September 3rd 1939, the couple celebrated a hastily arranged registrar’s wedding five days later, Living in London Kenneth and Diana became friends with Peggy Angus and her husband Jim Richards, the Rowntree’s, initially introduced to each other by Ravilious. it was Kenneth that first encouraged Peggy to turn her printing skills to wallpaper production. The family made several visits to Peggy’s home at Furlongs amongst the South Downs.

When Diana became pregnant in 1941 the couple wished to move out of the Lawn Road flats, Hampstead away from the bombing, Eric and Tirzah Ravilious found them a suitable house in Great Bardfield, close to the Bawdens home. The Rowntree’s did not stay long in Great Bardfield moving in 1943 to Simpkin’s Cottage in nearby Lindsell. Here in 1945, he produced his well-known School Print, Tractor in Landscape,

An Essex Lane, probably Great Bardfield. Bottom left: View Through Open Window 1944. Tope Right: ‘Ethel House’ Michael Rothenstein’s Great Bardfield home. Simpkin’s Cottage. Summer Gardens, Great Bardfield. Water Butt Simpskin’s.

Tractor in Landscape proved to be one of the most popular exhibits in the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition at the V&A in 1946 and continues to have enduring appeal.

As a conscientious objector during the Second World War, he worked for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. In 1940 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.

Schoolroom. A Polo Ground in War-Time. 1940. Brent Hall from the South, Finchingfield. Cliff Bridge Terrace and Museum, Scarborough, 1940.

The Pilgrim Trust commissioned many of Britain’s artists to go out and paint a record of the changing face of the country before it was too late. 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.

Foreign Servicemen in Hyde Park Early Summer, 1940. Bottom: The Organ Loft, Church of SS. Peter and Paul, Little Saling. Top right: Interior of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Lindsell. Interior, Black Chapel, North End, near Dunmow, Essex.

Grainfoot Farm Derwentdale Derbyshire-1940. Top right: Underbank Farm, Woodlands, Ashdale, Derbyshire, 1940. Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire 1940. Bottom: St. Mary’s, Whitby – Exterior, 1940.

The Smoke Room, Ashopton Inn, Derbyshire 1940. View of Ashopton Inn from the rear, with trees and a lawn in the foreground and the sheer-sided outline of Bamford Edge escarpment in the distance. ‘Old Toll Bar House, Ashopton, 1940.

Rowntree had his first one-man exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1946. Collectors of the King Penguin books, begun during the Second World War under the editorship of Nikolaus Pevsner, will well remember No. 43 in the series, A Prospect of Wales. Published in 1948, it contained a text by Gwyn Jones, and reproductions of some 20 watercolours and a cover by Kenneth Rowntree.

A Prospect of Wales: Book Cover and Back Cover. Left: Inside Page. Right: Conway Castle and the Coracle 1940. New Church, Llangelynnin 1941. Swan Cottages, Ro-Wen, Conway Valley, Caernarvonshire.

The children: Adam With Pram. Sasha. Sasha skiing in Austria, 1955

After the war Rowntree joined the Royal College of Art in 1949 as head of its mural painting studio, the family moving back to London living upstream from Putney Bridge.. He held this a post until 1958. He designed book covers, such as that for King Penguin Prospect of Wales.

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

Rowntree received a Ford Foundation Grant to visit America in 1959.  After painting in New Orleans and New Mexico, Rowntree headed north to New York, Boston and Nantucket. He returned from the US with a set of watercolours that sold well at the Zwemmer Gallery.

New Mexico Encounter, 1959. Nantucket, 1959.

In 1959, he was appointed 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.  The time spent in the USA was the start of a radical change in Rowntree’s work further accelerated by his move to the North East of England.  These radical works will be featured in part two.

Walled Vegetable Garden Sussex 1940’s.

The Friends Meeting House, Great Bardfield.

Interior of the Friends Meeting House, Great Bardfield

‘The Quakers met in Joseph Smith’s house, thought to be Great Bardfield Hall, which was licensed in 1703, as a place of Divine Worship for Quakers, or Friends.  The present Quaker Meeting House is built in the garden of Bucks House. Arthur and Harriet Buck were drapers who owned the shop next to the house and other buildings on the triangle of land in the centre of Great Bardfield. Subscriptions for the building were invited in 1803 and the Meeting House was built in 1806. Arthur and Harriet Buck are buried in the Meeting House Garden, and there is a gate from the garden of Bucks House into the graveyard.  Bucks House is itself much older and thought to date from 1510.’

The Friends Meeting House, Great Bardfield. Interior. Grave: Arthur and Harriet Buck.

Many thanks to Nessie Poston for the information and photos here.  Nessie resides in Bucks House, a fabulous B & B.

Graham Bennison, February 2022.

One thought on “Kenneth Rowntree Part One  (plus a feature on the Friends Meeting House, Great Bardfield).

  1. Wonderful paintings….particularly like the coracle at Conway Castle
    Nessie Poston,any connection to composer Elizabeth Poston?


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