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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn