George Kennethson & Eileen Guthrie

George Kennethson & Eileen Guthrie

An Artistic Marriage

The confluence between George Kennethson and Eileen Guthrie’s work speaks to a shared vision. This April, the MODERN MADE auction features a selection of works by Kennethson and Guthrie that illustrate their artistic influences on each other's practice.

George Kennethson (or Arthur Mackenzie as he was, Kennethson being the name he adopted in the early 1970s in order to separate his artistic practice from his role as the art master at Oundle School) met Eileen Guthrie in 1931 at the Royal Academy Schools in London. Intriguingly both were painting students, although in George’s case, the teaching at the still very academic Academy mainly had the effect of turning him into a sculptor, something he was already considering by his final year when they pair met (although one of his sons recalls Kennethson generously saying that the reason he became a sculptor was that Eileen was by far the better painter).


LOT 200 GEORGE KENNETHSON (BRITISH 1910-1994) WAVE FORM, CIRCA 1950S-60S £12,000 - £18,000 + fees
LOT 200 | § GEORGE KENNETHSON (BRITISH 1910-1994) | WAVE FORM, CIRCA 1950S-60S | £12,000 - £18,000 + fees


View Lot 200 ⇒


George came from a cultured, literary family. Eileen’s father and grandfather were architects and her mother was an accomplished pianist, who had studied at the Royal College of Music (Eileen herself had been taught the piano by Gustav Holst when she was young). And so, like many of their circle, Eileen and George were left-wing in their politics, interested in all things avant-garde in art, music and literature, and looked to Paris for inspiration. As young artists they both revered Cézanne. On their first trip together to the French capital, George tracked down the work of sculptors Maillol, Zadkine and Brancusi. And Eileen no doubt sought out the work of Bonnard, whose influence, both in composition and technique, can be traced in her work. They returned, in 1937, where they saw Picasso’s recently completed Guernica, which moved them both, artistically and politically.

Like many artists of their generation, their lives and careers were profoundly affected by World War Two. The Kennethsons were committed pacifists. A year before war broke out, they had moved to the quiet Berkshire village of Uffington, watched over by its ancient, curiously abstract White Horse, cut into the chalk of the nearby Downs, and so in a way had already withdrawn from the political storm of the late 30s. The villagers had no issues with the Kennethsons’ avowed pacifism: they were artists, after all, so they expected them to be different.


LOT 202 | § GEORGE KENNETHSON (BRITISH 1910-1994) | WAVES | £500 - £700 + fees
LOT 202 | § GEORGE KENNETHSON (BRITISH 1910-1994) | WAVES | £500 - £700 + fees


View Lot 202 ⇒


Whilst they passed the war in rural seclusion, conflict does seep into Kennethson’s sculpture, such as sculptures of travellers, with staffs and backpacks, or men carrying mattresses down to the local forge – images glimpsed out of the studio window, but now transformed into a moving response to the refugees that war inevitably creates. The couple took in both evacuees from the Blitz and the occasional European refugee (and much later in the 1980s, Kennethson returned to this theme as a response to the migrations forced by famine in Ethiopia). But more than this, the war and its aftermath led to little opportunity for artists to sell their work and therefore live by their art – something that was particularly acute for the Kennethsons, who by the late 1940s had five young boys to feed. Art historians have often been critical of British artists ‘retreating’ into teaching or commercial work, whilst their counterparts in America were splashing newly made paint across acres of pristine canvas and changing the direction of modern art forever, and yet this ignores the pressures on British artists, facing a public that was already relatively indifferent to modern art and which now was broke.

It was at this point that Eileen turned her hand to making prints for textiles. She did so with incredible success – artistically at least, as there was almost as little money for interiors and design in post-war Britain as there was for art. Eileen did, however, sell her ‘Flockhart Fabrics’ range – named after her Scottish grandfather - at Primavera, a leading interiors shop on Sloane Street, as well as to family and friends. Their neighbour in Uffington, John Betjeman, also helped them to find stockists, and Eileen’s twin sister Joan would open her London flat to showcase the designs. Lucienne Day, too, introduced Eileen to Amersham Prints, contractors to the government, and her design Bird and Basket was used in 1954 to furnish the Morag Mhor, the first all-aluminium yacht in the country.


LOT 203 | § GEORGE KENNETHSON (BRITISH 1910-1994) | FATHER AND CHILD, 1960S | £12,000 - £18,000 + fees
LOT 203 | § GEORGE KENNETHSON (BRITISH 1910-1994) | FATHER AND CHILD, 1960S | £12,000 - £18,000 + fees


View Lot 203 ⇒


George lent a hand too, on the production side, contributing to designs, working on lino-blocks and silkscreens and helping Eileen with the considerable manual work of printing the fabrics by hand. The prints are deceptively simple, strong and sculptural, whilst retaining the required elegance and beauty. The line that one sees in her gouaches and oils finds an easy home amongst the repeats of fabric design and motifs that infuse George’s sculpture – birds, leaves, architectonic flower forms – which are abstracted from her landscape painting.

The family moved to Oundle in 1954, to a house with a large former malting attached, which made for good, if draughty, studios. George would have been surrounded by Eileen’s fabrics – at the long settle by the kitchen table or on one of the armchairs where he would read and draw before heading out to his studio to carve equally simple forms, with soft curves and sharp edges, into stone and alabaster, so perhaps Eileen’s influence on George’s work shouldn’t be under-estimated. Meeting her late in her life – a decade after George’s death – she would walk amongst the sculptures, laid out on plinths in the cavernous Victorian former malting, and place her hands intuitively on every undercut and turn (the wearing of rings was strictly forbidden!). George resolutely worked alone – no assistants, no power tools, only mallets and chisels and cassettes of classical music and operatic arias for company – but the confluence between their work speaks to a shared vision.


LOT 199 | § EILEEN GUTHRIE (BRITISH 1913-2006) | PURBECK | £700 - £1,000 + fees
LOT 199 | § EILEEN GUTHRIE (BRITISH 1913-2006) | PURBECK | £700 - £1,000 + fees


View Lot 199 ⇒


We are delighted to include in this selection a painting by Eileen alongside a drawing by George, both made at their beloved Isle of Purbeck, where they holidayed (and found inspiration, in the fields, quarries and shore) every year since the late 1930s. Seen side by side, these works could almost be by the same hand. George’s drawings, mainly of the rock formations of the coast that were the source of his material, whilst studies in sculptural form, have a painter’s confident flow: equally, Eileen’s paintings, whilst more concerned with the wider landscape, have a certain sculptural feel to their construction, even though, in the end, they concern themselves more with colour and abstract form, in the manner of Ivon Hitchens or Patrick Heron, both of whom she admired.

The last few years have seen something of a revival in interest in George Kennethson’s work. After all, this is an artist whose work sits very comfortably – and beautifully – in Britain’s best small museum, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, alongside Constantin Brancusi and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. There are now two monographs on the artist, the most recent written by the eminent critic Richard Cork. Eileen Guthrie’s work, on the other hand, still remains something of a secret, her last public exhibitions being held almost 40 years ago. We hope that this brief glimpse will be the beginning of her revival, as well as a testament to an artistic partnership that was very much of its time, yet resonates with beauty today. 



Auction Information



Modern & Post War Art, Design and Contemporary Ceramics & Crafts
Friday 28 April 2023 at 10am
Live at Mall Galleries, London & Online


View the auction catalogue ⇒



Modern British Art


Lyon & Turnbull are delighted to offer several auctions a year across the UK featuring to Modern British painting, sculpture, prints and drawings - including MODERN MADE in London. These Modern British art auctions feature works from the likes of Walter Sickert and the Camden Town Group to Terry Frost and the St Ives School, we also handle selected works by all of 20th century Europe’s major figures and movements.


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