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Kenneth Rowntree: A Centenary Exhibition

[ Exhibition )

A painting by Kenneth Rowntree of a yellow toy boat on top of a sea wall.

Kenneth Rowntree, Toy Boat at Selsey, 1956, 61.4 x 76.5cm © The Artist’s Estate, courtesy Fry Art Gallery

The first major retrospective of Kenneth Rowntree (1915 – 1997), one of Britain’s best loved artists, known for his works in oil and watercolour.

A contemporary of Edward Bawden RA, Michael Rothenstein RA and Eric Ravilious, with whom he became great friends, the influence of a generation of English artist-designers is evident in his remarkable range of work.

Touring from the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, this exhibition marked the centenary of the birth of Kenneth Rowntree.

Through his friendship with Ravilious, Rowntree moved to the idyllic village of Great Bardfield in 1941. Rowntree depicted his surroundings using playful recurring motifs, and distinct locations including the Essex countryside, the Welsh Hills and the Sussex coastline can be identified in his work. Later the Australian outback and the great landscapes of America which he visited during his travels overseas became common subjects in his work.

The exhibition includes over 20 works which demonstrate the extent of his oeuvre, from a focus on the figurative to the abstract and back again. His wide-ranging creative influences – Eric Ravilious, David Hockney, the Euston Road School, and the Dadaism of Kurt Schwitters – are evident in the selection of works, and yet the enduring themes of humour and inventiveness are consistent throughout.

This centenary exhibition places Rowntree’s work in the wider context of the Gallery’s collection of Modern British art, including abstract and Pop artists of the 1950s and 60s such as Richard Hamilton and Victor Pasmore with whom he taught at the Royal College of Art and Newcastle University. It seeks to confirm Kenneth Rowntree’s significant place in the history of 20th century British art.

The exhibition was accompanied by the publication of an illustrated book published by Moore-Gwyn Fine Art and Liss Llewellyn Fine Art.

What the press said

He was a figure of his time, whose technical command enabled him to speak with authority in a variety of visual languages…surveying the full range of his work, it is this quality of whimsical playfulness that gives it its coherence and defines it as the project of a unique consciousness. Once seen, Rowntree’s work is unmistakable.

Peyton Skipwith, Country Life

Rowntree has his fans but deserves wider recognition for his upbeat but strangely haunting paintings of landscapes, buildings, boats and interiors.

James Russell on the Web


This exhibition was made possible by a number of generous organisations and individuals

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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