Kenneth Rowntree

Souvenir of Venice


Not on display

Kenneth Rowntree 1915–1997
Oil paint on board
Support: 635 × 762 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1984

Display caption

This is one of a number of paintings Rowntree made of Venice. The central image is a representation of the tower of St Marks Cathedral. The artist said that in the painting he was attempting to simplify the complexity of Venetian buildings 'trying to choose the basic facts beneath the flowering of architectural patisserie.' He was also trying to paint his feelings about the city, 'to fix my delight in Venice in as economical way as possible.' At the time, Rowntree was introducing geometric elements into his paintings and placing great emphasis on simplicity in his compositions.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Kenneth Rowntree born 1915

T03935 Souvenir of Venice 1961

Oil on board 635 x 762 (25 x 30)
Not inscribed
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1984
Prov: Purchased from the artist by the Tate Gallery 1984
Exh: Kenneth Rowntree, Zwemmer Gallery, March 1962 (6 as 'Venice I'); Kenneth Rowntree. Paintings, Drawings and Collages, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, Dec.1976-Jan.1977 (91, repr.)
Lit: Friends of the Tate Gallery 1984-5, 1985, p.53 repr.
Repr: Paintings and Drawings by Kenneth Rowntree,, Queen's Hall, Hexham 1987 (front cover)

Unless otherwise stated, all quotations come from a letter from the artist to the compiler, dated 30 January 1988.

The tower in the centre of the image, a triangular form surmounting a rectangle, represents a simplified view of the Campanile of St Mark's Cathedral. Writing of his primary considerations while painting this work, the artist states: '[it was] an attempt as simplifying the enormous complexity of Venetian buildings, trying to choose the basic facts beneath the flowering of architectural patisserie'. The strict geometrical forms employed by the artist were, and remained, a central concern. He writes: 'all the Venice paintings could be said to be concerned with geometry, basically, as were other works done as the same time, and I remain intrigued still'.

As indicated by the foregoing quotation, the Venice view is one of several produced by the artist around this time and also subsequently. While none relate specifically to T03935, of which there are no other versions, the artist writes of the range of imagery that, without being specifically related, there is 'a whole series of smaller paintings, of Venice seen through partly closed Venetian Blinds, and some more abstract works painted on a black ground (The Black Paintings [a series of six paintings, all painted in 1965])'. Compared to the other Venice works, the larger dimensions of T03935 indicate its relative significance for the artist, who wanted is to be an 'important work'. He states: 'the Souvenir of Venice is to me definitely the major work of the series, and grew out of the smaller Venice paintings'. He recognized in it a significant formal change in direction from his previous work, with an increasingly important role played by geometric elements in the composition. In a letter to the compiler dated 13 April 1988, the artist describes the stylistic change as follows: 'the change was mostly towards a greater simplicity, and a greater emphasis placed on the fewer objects upon which I choose to concentrate'.

Aside from the formal simplification, Rownsree conceived this work as a concentration of his feelings toward the city, without resorting to any artistic precedents to guide his imagination. He writes: 'my interest was in trying to fix my delight in Venice in as economical a way as possible, hence the title'. He worked on the painting in his studio in Putney on his return to England, returning to it, 'on and off, for three or four months'.

In a letter to the Tate Gallery Conservation Department (dated 12 March 1985), the artist described his technical approach in works of this period: 'my oil paintings of the early 60s were mostly grounded with emulsion (brilliant white), either Dulux, or Leyland - if oil-based, it would be ordinary good quality flat white'. He continues, writing about T03935 in particular: 'the original work was entirely in oil (Windsor and Newton) and the sky had as least 2 coats. Subsequently the sky was repainted in Acrylic (Rowney's P.V.A.) and repainted I believe as least twice in thin medium, after some dirt and slight damage from exhibitions. The texture on the left is as originally painted and the dark pattern over the pink ground was layed over the whole area and then "tonked" (blotted with newsprint)'. The repainting of the sky happened, according to the artist, about ten years later. In a letter to the compiler dated 4 May 1988, the artist recalls returning to the painting as intervals during these ten years, although the changes made were not significant enough to merit a re-dating of the work.

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.264-5


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