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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there