BRYAN KNEALE (b.1930)
Rex Nan Kivell 1958
oil on canvas
20 x 30 ins (50.8 x 76.2 cm)
Redfern Gallery, Bryan Kneale: Portraits, 1958, no.5
The Studio, vol.157, January 1959, illustrated p.30
Rex Nan Kivell (1898-1977) was a vital figure in the London art world for four decades. A New Zealander who began working for an antiquarian book dealer, he joined the Redfern Gallery in 1925, becoming its director in 1931. He introduced countless numbers of contemporary artists to the gallery-going public, with an exhaustive programme of one-man exhibitions. He staged important retrospectives of international figures from twentieth century art, and instigated ground breaking group shows. In many of the gallery’s exhibition catalogues, particularly of prints, the list of works ran into several hundreds. During his stewardship, the Redfern was consistently one of the most influential galleries in London.
Nan Kivell was also a considerable collector and benefactor. He accumulated over 15,000 paintings and objects relating to the history of Australia and New Zealand, which he bequeathed to relevant national museums and institutions. He was knighted in 1976.
Bryan Kneale, showing portraits at the Redfern, does not use paint with any ingratiating intent. His palette knife whips it on and off the surface in clearly faceted planes…His method is particularly suited to the sober realistic portrait that exaggerates expression sometimes to the point of caricature. Those large eyes, not always meeting the spectator’s, are wary, the sitters scarcely able to take the artist into their confidence…. Sir Herbert Read looks worried, Rex Nan Kivell is none too happy. (The Studio, vol.157, January 1959, p.30)
Kneale’s reputation rests on his work as a sculptor, but throughout the 1950s, he enjoyed considerable success as a painter. His 1958 exhibition, at which this work was exhibited, was solely of portraits, and included likenesses of Charles Laughton, Richard Attenborough, Herbert Read, Norman Parkinson, as well as family and friends. He abandoned painting in 1959, taking up sculpture: such was his success in his new medium (primarily steel) that by 1966, he was given a retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.