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Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997):
Wadham College Barge
Framed (ref: 6775)
Oil on canvas
19 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. (49.5 x 32 cm)
Provenance: The artist Derwent Wise (1933-2003)
Exhibited: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, The Oxford Barges, May 1956; Bear Lane
Gallery, Oxford, February 1959, no.9; Fry Art Gallery, Kenneth Rowntree, A Centenary Exhibition .
Rowntree's paintings of Oxford Barges were shown at the Ashmoelan Gallery in May 1956. The Oxford Barges. The pictures were commissioned in 1956 by J.M Richards of The Architectural Review, to accompany an article written by Diana Rowntree.
Yet while Rowntree spent much of the war painting relics of older times, he was not simply guided by nostalgia, and seldom edited out the signs of modern life when these occurred, relishing the jolt of anachronism and geometrical order they could bring. He did not pursue primitivism to the extent of breaking the conventions of scale and perspective, and his self-aware innocence should perhaps be attributed rather to a combination of personal preference and belief with a general enthusiasm for the fresh vision of folk art shared by many artist contemporaries.
This affection for innocent decoration played an active role in Rowntree’s work when he painted the Oxford College Barges, originally converted from London Livery Company Thames barges into slightly baroque viewing stations for college ‘bumps’, but by this time rapidly decaying. The paintings were used to illustrate an article by Diana in the Architectural Review in July 1956, arguing for a more sensitive approach to the planning of boathouse buildings along the Isis, and shown at the Ashmolean Museum, helping to stir an effort to save the barges, Alan Powers, Kenneth Rowntree a Centenary Exhibition, p 35
Rowntree designed his own frames, often using, for works on paper, a moulding favoured by Ravilious with a wooden slip. For oil and acrylic paintings he favoured a tray-frame within which images would float over a hessian ground. In a letter to the Tate Gallery Conservation Department (dated 12 March 1985), the artist records that he designed and refinished the surface of his frames many of which were made by Mr Davey, joiner and undertaker of Great Bardfield'. 'The painted slips', he added, 'are part of the original frame'.