Kenneth Rowntree

Cornish Landscape


Not on display

Kenneth Rowntree 1915–1997
Oil paint on board
Support: 375 × 447 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1984

Display caption

Kenneth Rowntree was born in Yorkshire and studied at the Ruskin School in Oxford and the Slade School in London. He was later appointed lecturer at the Royal College of Art and Professor in Fine Art at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. 'Cornish Landscape' was painted in the artist's studio in Putney after a visit to Cornwall. Rowntree said that in this work he attempted to bring together elements which he felt to be 'essentially Cornish'. The painting's abstract qualities, such as the pattern of the fields, reflect his admiration for the work of Ben Nicholson. In subseqent years, Rowntree's interest in Cubist and Constructivist methods inspired his inventive use of geometric forms and collage.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Kenneth Rowntree born 1915

T03934 Cornish Landscape 1942

Oil on board 375 x 447 (14 3/4 x 17 5/8)
Inscribed 'K.R. [arrow pointing upwards]' b.l.
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1984
Prov: Purchased from the artist by the Tate Gallery 1984
Exh: Kenneth Rowntree, Retrospective, Hatton Gallery, University of Newcastle on Tyne, May-June 1980 (18)
Lit: Friends of the Tate Gallery Report 1984-5, 1985, p.53 repr.

All quotations, unless otherwise indicated, come from a letter to the compiler from the artist dated 30 January 1988.

This landscape was painted in the artist's studio in Putney, London, immediately after his return from a visit near Mousehole, Cornwall. He states that is was painted 'on and off over a month', adding that this represented fairly quick progess. There are no other versions or preparatory sketches for this work. It represents, he writes: 'an attempt to sift out and reassemble elements which I felt to be essentially Cornish'.

The material was gathered while the artist was staying with his friend, the painter John Armstrong. Writing of the schematic arrangement of the cows and the patchwork of fields, he defines the place between abstraction and representation occupied by the landscape: 'I do not feel this to be an abstract work, except to use the term as "abstracting" essential elements from various sources'. The artist writes of his life-long delight and admiration for Ben Nicholson's work and adds: 'perhaps there is a whiff of this in the field patterns'.

A cow stands behind a rust-red iron gate against the patchwork background of distant fields. Both are sited centrally down the vertical axis beneath a hazy orb, the sun, which has been carefully overpainted to obtain the desired effect. In a letter to the compiler dated 13 April 1988, the artist writes: 'the sun was not obscured, but I did find it difficult to get what I wanted; a subtle emphasis of the vertical axis'. This central emphasis and the even grid pastern of the barred gate contrast with the less ordered hedges and walls dividing the fields in the background. The strong axial balance belonged very much to the original concept of the picture, as the artist explains:

I wanted it to be very solid and 'heavy', and I felt water-colour would not give this. The colour was entirely dictated by the Cornish scene. The 'sun' was one of the most important elements and is "overpainted" to get the effect I needed; it was painted many times and its 'dead-centre' position deliberate. [Is was] very much part of the original concept.
The result is layers of yellows and pinks around the blotted-out sun that give a diffuse aura of light on an overcast day.

Brushstrokes are even and regular, particularly in the area of the sky. Areas of slight impasto are found in the greys and blacks which depict the dry-stone walling, as the bottom left and right of the image. The end of the brush has been used in the coat of the cow in the foreground; rough figures of eight are incised to describe its tousled coat.

In a letter to the Tate Gallery Conservation Department (dated 12 March 1985), the artist records that he designed and surfaced this picture's frame and had is made 'by Mr Davey, joiner and undertaker of Great Bardfield'. 'The painted slips', he adds, 'are part of the original frame'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.263-4

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