Eric Henri Kennington

Eric Henri Kennington, “Portrait of Leading Seaman Dove of HMS Hardy”, 1940, Pastel on Paper, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Born in Chelsea, London, in 1888, Eric Henri Kennington was an English illustrator sculptor, and an official war artist in both World Wars. He was educated at St. Paul’s School and the Lambeth School of Art, both in London. In 1908, Kennington had his first exhibition at the Royal Academy and, in 1914, an exhibition at the international Society, which financially allowed him to set up a studio in London. 

Wounded in 1915 during World War I, Kennington spent time, during his convalescence,  painting his “The Kenningtons at Laventie”, a portrait of his own infantry platoon, which caused a sensation at its 1916 showing. In May of 1917, he accepted an official war artist commission from the Department of Information, spending eight months in France. During this tour, Kennington produced 170 charcoal, pastels, and watercolors of servicemen and the war action before returning to London in 1918.

During the years between the two wars,, Kennington worked mostly on portraits of an idealized style;  book illustrations, notably those for T. E. Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”; and a number of public sculptures and monuments. His 1924 War Memorial to the 24th Division located in Battersea Park and his 1928 Memorial to the Allied Forces located in Soissons, France, established his position as a direct carver working on a monumental scale. In September of 1931, Kennington finished a series of allegorical reliefs for the Shakespeare Memorial Theater in Stratford on Avon. A life-sized tomb effigy of British archeologist and writer T. E. Lawrence was carved, between 1937 and 1939, by Kennington for St. Martin’s Church in Wareham, Dorset. 

In 1951 Kennington became an associate member of the Royal Academy and was elected a full academician in 1959. He passed away on April 13, 1960 at the age of seventy-two. His last work, which was completed on his death by his assistant Eric Stanford, was a stone relief panel that decorates the James Watt South Building in the University of Glasqow.

Note: Kennington drew his pastel portrait of Leading Seaman Dove, along with other seamen, in 1940. The badge worn by Seaman Dove indicates that he was a gunnery specialist. Dove served on the HMS Hardy, a H-class destroyer, launched in 1943, which was later capsized from an assault by German destroyers, finally sinking off Narvik, Norway, in April of 1940. 

Top Insert Image: Howard Coster, “Eric Kennington”, 1936, Half Plate Film Negative Print, National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC

Bottom Insert Image: Eric Henri Kennington, “Sleeping Figure”, Date Unknown, Charcoal on Paper, 24.2 x 34.3 cm, Private Collection

Leave a Reply