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Rockwell Kent (American, 1882-1971)
Also known as: Kent, RockBirth Place: Tarrytown (Albany county, New York state, United States)
Rockwell Kent was born to a privileged Tarrytown, New York family in 1882. Kent’s father was a well-known lawyer and businessman, while his mother was a New York socialite. His Aunt, a ceramic artist, fed his artistic talent and took 13 year old Kent on a European Tour. On his return, Kent enrolled in the Cheshire Academy and the Horace Mann School where he studded mechanical drawing. This strong line, geometric technique would have a profound influence in Rockwell Kent’s art. During this time, his aunt utilized the enterprising Kent in selling and painting her ceramic wears. Kent went on to attend the Summer School of Art at Shinnecock with William Merritt Chase. It was Chase that instilled Kent with the importance of painting outdoors with nature. Kent was offered a full scholarship by Chase to attend the famous New York School of Art, but instead he selected the Columbia University School of Architecture where he was also awarded a full scholarship. Towards the end of his college education, Kent would turn back to painting and attend the New York School of Art with Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller. Kent was chosen among his classmates, including Edward Hopper and George Bellows, to become Abbott Thayer’s summer studio assistant in 1903.
Rockwell Kent had an adventurous spirit and a wanderlust that could not be tempered. At the advice of his mentor, Robert Henri, Kent visited Monhegan Island, Maine. It was here that Kent would fall in love with nature and explore this relationship through his artwork. Unable to pay for this trip on his artwork alone, Kent began to take jobs as a longshoreman, well driller, and any other occupation that revealed itself. In 1907, Rockwell Kent hosted his first one man exhibit at the William Clausen Gallery in New York with great acclaim. His style was realistic with a simplified composition that pleased the eye. Kent’s work began to appear in the Daniel Gallery, Knoedler Gallery, Phillips Collection, and Wildenstein Gallery. Kent began to explore illustration, writing, and lecturing. Kent Illustrated Moby Dick, The Canterbury Tales, Candide, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and various other books and magazines. He also produced work for General Electric, Rolls Royce, Westinghouse, and the Federal Public Works Administration. Throughout this period, Kent travelled and painted Newfoundland, Alaska, Chile, France, Ireland, and Greenland. In 1927, Kent set up his studio at his dairy farm, Asgaard, in Au Sable Forks, NY. By the 1930s, Rockwell Kent was one of the most renowned American artists exploring paint, printing, and illustration.
However, Kent’s reputation took a downward turn during the 1950s when he gained the attention of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Committee on Un-American Activities. Kent was always interested in politics and was outspoken about his support of communism in its broadest terms. He was a supporter of the International Workers Order and was the first American to have his work exhibited in the former Soviet Union. McCarthy’s investigation resulted in Kent’s artwork being shunned by American galleries and museums as well as restrictions placed on his travel. Upset by this, Kent gave the majority of his collection to the former Soviet Union, and in 1967, he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. Despite this, Kent continued to paint until his death in 1971 and remains one of America’s most versatile and multifaceted artists.
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