Kenneth Rowntree (14 March 1915 – 21 February 1997) was a British artist. He was the son of Howard Doncaster Rowntree (1879-1974), born in Scarborough and educated at Bootham School, York from 1929 to 1932. His father was the manager of the local department store (which was the first place where Kenneth displayed his work, and through an advertisement at the store he received his first major commission). Having trained originally as a cellist (adopting his mother’s talent for music) he chose art for his future career.
He studied at the Ruskin Drawing School, Oxford and went to the Slade School in London. There, he met Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden, moving to north Essex to work more closely with them. They became known – with others – as the Great Bardfield Artists.
In 1939, he married architect Diana Rowntree (née Buckley) with whom he had two children.
During the Second World War, he worked for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. He was one of more than 60 artists commissioned by the Government and financed by the Pilgrim Trust to record the face of England and Wales before development or wartime destruction changed it. “Recording Britain“, as this remarkable project came to be known, covered a total of 36 counties. Kenneth Rowntree concentrated on capturing the essential character of old buildings and interiors in Bedfordshire, Essex, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Wales.
After the war he joined the Royal College of Art as head of its mural painting studios. He designed book covers, such as that for King Penguin Prospect of Wales. In 1951 he completed a major mural, Freedom, for the Festival of Britain; two years later, he painted scenes along the processional route of the Coronation, with the Queen later acquiring some of his works.
In 1959, he was appointed to succeed Lawrence Gowing as Professor of Fine Art at Newcastle University; it was one of the most progressive art schools in Britain, where the teaching staff included Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton. He held this post until his retirement in 1980. It was at Newcastle that he became receptive to various modernist idioms, such as assemblage and constructivist forms, and incorporated them in his own work. Amongst many other achievements, Kenneth Rowntree worked with the architect Erno Goldfinger to produce coloured glass panels in Goldfinger’s Alexander Fleming House (now Metro Central Heights in the Elephant and Castle).
More detail about Kenneth Rowntree’s life and work can be found here.