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Kenneth Rowntree was born in Scarborough. Between 1932 and 1935, he studied at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford where Eric Ravilious and Barnett Freedman, both artists who criss-crossed the border between fine art, illustration and design, taught. This would prove to be an important influence on his development.
During the war he moved out of London to Great Bardfield in Essex where there was a community of like-minded artists, including Ravilious and Edward Bawden. At this time he contributed to the War Artists Scheme and to the Recording Britain Scheme. Here his work was admired by John Piper: “He always had an eye for the things in the English countryside that needed noticing,” Piper wrote.
After the war he held his first exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London. Returning to live there, he became Head of Mural Painting at the Royal College of Art, designing a mural for the prestigious Festival of Britain in 1951. In 1959, he returned north to become Professor of Fine Art at Durham University. It was here that he formed a close relationship with the painter Victor Pasmore, who was exploring abstraction and constructivism, elements of which crept into Rowntree’s work.
During the last 20 years of his life, he was given retrospective exhibitions at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle (1976); The Hatton Gallery, Newcastle (1980); Welshpool, Cardiff and London (1992); and the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden (1995). A centenary exhibition was held at the Fry Art Gallery in 2015, travelling to Pallant House in Chichester.
[Kynance Fine Art]