Life and work
He was born in Chelsea, London, the son of the well-known genre and portrait painter, Thomas Benjamin Kennington (1856–1916), an active member of the New English Art Club. He was educated at St Paul's School and the Lambeth School of Art. Kennington first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1908.
At the start of World War I, Kennington enlisted with the 13th (Kensington) Battalion London Regiment. He fought on the Western Front, but was wounded and discharged as unfit in June 1915. During his convalescence, he produced The Kensingtons at Laventie, Winter 1914, a portrait of a group of infantrymen. When exhibited in the spring of 1916, its portrayal of exhausted soldiers caused a sensation. Painted in reverse on glass, the painting is now in the Imperial War Museum and was widely praised for its technical virtuosity, iconic colour scheme, and its ‘stately presentation of human endurance, of the quiet heroism of the rank and file’. Kennington returned to the front in 1917 as an official war artist.
Kennington regarded himself chiefly as a sculptor, creating a number of memorials, including one to his friend T. E. Lawrence. He had produced the illustrations for Lawrence's The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and was one of the six pallbearers at his funeral in 1935. Kennington also created many pastel portraits and lithographs.
Kennington again became an official war artist during World War II, personally commissioned to do work for the Ministry of Information by Edwin Embleton. At the start of World War II, Kennington also produced a number of pastel portraits for the War Artists' Advisory Committee on short-term contracts before the Committee gave him a full-time salaried contract to work for the Air Ministry. He travelled around Britain to produce hundreds of portraits of Allied flight crew and other service personnel until September 1942 when he resigned his commission because he felt that WAAC were failing to capitalise on the propaganda value of his work in their publications and posters. Some of Kennington's RAF portraits were published in a 1942 book, Drawing the RAF, which was followed in 1943 with Tanks and Tank Folk. In 1945 Kennington supplied the illustrations for Britain's Home Guard by John Brophy. Darracott and Loftus describe how in both wars "his drawings and letters show him to be an admirer of the heroism of ordinary men and women", an admiration which is particularly notable in the poster series "Seeing it Through".
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 Glasgow.
In 1922, he married Edith Cecil, with whom he had a son and a daughter. Edith, who was already married, fell in love with Kennington while he was painting her husband's picture. They both remained good friends with Edith's ex-husband.
- Tate. "Artist biography: Eric Kennington". Tate Britain. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
- Richard Slocombe (Senior art curator IWM) (30 August 2013). "Art of war:The Kensingtons at Laventie". The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
- Paul Gough (2010) ‘A Terrible Beauty’: British Artists in the First World War (Sansom and Company) p.20.
- Brain Foss (2007). War paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain, 1939-1945. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10890-3.
- Imperial War Museum. "War artists archive - Eric Kennington Part 1". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
- Richard Moss (13 July 2011). "Eric Kennington's Portraits of the British at War at the RAF Museum, London". Culture24. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
- Jonathan Black. The Sculpture of Eric Kennington (Henry Moore Foundation/Lund Humphries, November 2002) ISBN 0 85331 823 9
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eric Kennington.|
- Kennington, Eric Henri (1888-1960) A comprehensive summary of Kennington's work on The National Archives website.