" From Essex Tractor to Abstract"

Kenneth Rowentree was a pacifist from a Quaker family and a conscientious objector, as such he was exempt from military service, so in 1940 he was one of the artists involved in the recording Britain project. In 1941 he moved with his wife , Diana,  to live in Great Bardfield Essex. He went on to contribute 12 pictures of rural Essex for the project and then moved, in 1943, out of Great Bardfield to a nearby village while still retaining strong links to the friends and fellow artists he had left behind. The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne currently has an exhibition of work form the Recording Britain project in which there are several works by Rowntree. The exhibition runs until May 2016.

 In 1945 Kenneth Rowntree together with other artist involved in the Recording Britain Project, most notably Michael Rothenstein ,was asked to design a lithograph for School Prints Ltd. He chose an image that would have been most familiar to him and  "Essex Tractor" is certainly familiar to me, as well as many other children, recalling the images in their classrooms during the 1950's and 60's.  It was a simple flat image , uncomplicated with great visual impact. Interestingly, it was the following year ,1946, that Rowntree had his first magor show at the Leicester Gallery in London. Three years later he was offered the job of tutor of mural painting at the RCA where he remained for nearly 10 years. 


Shown above is a subject that  Kenneth Rowntree did several times - see No.25 in the retrospective exhibition at the Fry Gallery (2015) and No. 42 in J. Milner's monograph (1992), where the same signal post appears in the background. He was also quite accustomed to using the same props in many of his paintings- a popular one was the French enamel coffee pot that he bought in France c. 1939 and kept all his life. It was in fact sold as part of his studio sale in 2009,  Lot 15.  This image shown here is from the mid 1950's when he was tutor at the RCA and is titled 'Open air still life - levisham' . The town of Levisham is located next to the North Yorks Moor railway line .

The best of Rowntree's  work manifests a strong sense of design , with, as here, a marked use of geometric pattern making and a flattening out of space. he is a master of pictorial composition, and this is evident from the beginning of his career, and not surprisingly eventually leads to complete abstraction in some of his later work.