Obituary: George Kennethson

Arthur George Landseer Mackenzie (George Kennethson), sculptor and teacher: born Richmond, Surrey 22 June 1910; married Eileen Guthrie (five sons); died Oundle, Northamptonshire 10 December 1994.

It would have been a pity, but not out of character, if the death of the sculptor George Kennethson had gone unremarked. Lack of attention on the part of critics and curators was something that Kennethson had to put up with for most of his life. By far the greater part of his work remains with his family, though there are works in the collections of Kettle's Yard art gallery, in Cambridge, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, in Edinburgh, and late in his life he was fortunate to have foundan exhibiting home with the New Art Centre, which mounted exhibitions of his work in London and still shows it in beautiful surroundings at Roche Court in Wiltshire.

I met Kennethson in the early Eighties when I worked for the Arts Council, which has a good tradition of visiting neglected artists. Letters arrive in the office from all over the country. Kennethson wrote enclosing photographs and I was delegated to make the visit to Oundle. I found his work difficult because it was what I regarded at the time as passe. Not because it was figurative but because it was the modernism of a previous generation. But his determination and the real quality of his work with stone was evident. And I was struck, as others have been, by the atmosphere of the old brewery in which he had his studio. Even then it was packed with work so that entering it has been described as "like going into a Chinese tomb". After my visit we corresponded for a time. I failed to get his work purchased for the Arts Council Collection and he failed, despite fierce persistence, to gain recognition in London.

It must have been at this time that he wrote to the collector and supporter of artists Jim Ede that he was "reaching the absolute edge of despair at being quite unable to show my work anywhere, let alone sell it". At some point he had changed his surnamefrom Arthur Mackenzie to George Kennethson, apparently in the belief that "Kennethsons" might receive more attention than "Mackenzies". But a measure of acceptance did come to him late in life when he found a gallery in the New Art Centre, enthusiastic patrons in Germany (who have made some inroads into the hundreds of sculptures in the studio), and some sympathetic writing about his work, notably in the autumn issue of Modern Painters in 1988 coinciding with a retrospective exhibition. A film about his work, In Place of Words, was made by Central Television in 1987.

Kennethson trained as a painter in the Royal Academy Schools. He and his wife, the painter and textile designer Eileen Guthrie, lived at Uffington, near Oxford, below the celebrated white horse, before moving to Oundle, in Northamptonshire, in the mid-1950s. It is worth noting, since it is absent from his catalogues, that Kennethson taught art at Oundle School for almost 20 years. He must have been an inspiring teacher with an independence of mind that went with his craggy figure. He was a physically strong man, strong enough to both teach and make sculpture without any loss of energy in either area.

After he turned to sculpture before the Second World War he seems to have devoted himself entirely to carving fine local stone - Purbeck, Hornton, Clipsham, Ancaster and, perhaps most memorable, alabaster. It has been remarked that his subjects are thoseof a painter - waves and the sea, birds and cornfields - but there are many fine images of young women of a "blockiness" which recalls Eric Gill, Frank Dobson and Henry Moore, though these figures often have a light-heartedness and a relish for their subject which is entirely his own. He was a very English sculptor, which is to say that he belonged to an enduring tradition which has proved as strong in this century as it was in the Romanesque period.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes