|Birth Day:||June 21, 1882|
|Death Date:||Mar 13, 1971 (age 88)|
As per our current Database, Rockwell Kent died on Mar 13, 1971 (age 88).
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He studied composition design at the Arts Student League in 1900 and entered New York School of Art in 1902.
Kent's early paintings of Mount Monadnock and New Hampshire were first shown at the Society of American Artists in New York in 1904, when Dublin Pond was purchased by Smith College. In 1905 Kent ventured to Monhegan Island, Maine, and found its rugged and primordial beauty a source of inspiration for the next five years. His first series of paintings of Monhegan were shown to wide critical acclaim in 1907 at Clausen Galleries in New York. These works form the foundation of his lasting reputation as an early American modernist, and can be seen in museums across the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Among those critics lauding Kent was James Huneker of the Sun, who praised Kent's athletic brushwork and daring color dissonances. (It was Huneker who deemed the paintings of The Eight as "decidedly reactionary".) In 1910, Kent helped organize the Exhibition of Independent Artists, and in 1911 together with Arthur B. Davies he organized An Independent Exhibition of the Paintings and Drawings of Twelve Men, referred to as "The Twelve" and "Kent's Tent". Painters Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Max Weber (but not John Sloan, Robert Henri, or George Bellows) participated in the 1911 exhibition.
Although he came from a relatively privileged background, Kent formed radical political views early in life, joining the Socialist Party of America in 1904. He cast his first presidential vote for Eugene Debs that year, and for the rest of his life was ready to debate socialist ideas on any occasion. His respect for the dignity of labor, acquired through personal experience and the skills of his craft, also made him a strong supporter of unions. He briefly joined the Industrial Workers of the World in 1912 and belonged at various times to unions in the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
Less well known are Kent's talents as a jazz age humorist. As the pen-and-ink draftsman "Hogarth, Jr.", Kent created dozens of whimsical and irreverent drawings published by Vanity Fair, New York Tribune, Harper's Weekly, and the original Life. He brought his Hogarth, Jr., style to a series of richly colored reverse paintings on glass that he completed in 1918 and exhibited at Wanamaker's Department Store. (Two of these glass paintings are in the collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, part of the bequest of modernist collector Ferdinand Howald.) Further decorative work ensued intermittently: in 1939, Vernon Kilns reproduced three series of designs drawn by Kent (Moby Dick, Salamina, Our America) on its sets of contemporary china dinnerware. His pen, brush, and ink drawings were reproduced on the covers of the pulp magazine Adventure in 1927, leading Time magazine to say that "if it were distinguished for nothing else, Adventure would stand apart from rival 'pulps' ... because it was once entirely illustrated by Rockwell Kent ..."
In the late summer of 1918, Kent and his nine-year-old son ventured to the American frontier of Alaska. Wilderness (1920), the first of Kent's several adventure memoirs, is an edited and illustrated compilation of his letters home. The New Statesman (London) described Wilderness as "easily the most remarkable book to come out of America since Leaves of Grass was published." Upon the artist's return to New York in March 1919, publishing scion George Palmer Putnam and others, including Juliana Force—assistant to Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney—incorporated the artist as "Rockwell Kent, Inc." to support him in his new Vermont homestead while he completed his paintings from Alaska for exhibition in 1920 at Knoedler Galleries in New York. Kent's small oil-on-wood-panel sketches from Alaska—uniformly horizontal studies of light and color—were exhibited at Knoedler's as "Impressions." Their artistic lineage to the small and spare oil sketches of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), which are often entitled "Arrangements," underscores Kent's admiration of Whistler's genius.
Approached in 1926 by publisher R. R. Donnelley to produce an illustrated edition of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast, Kent suggested Moby-Dick instead. Published in 1930 by the Lakeside Press of Chicago, the three-volume limited edition (1,000 copies) filled with Kent's haunting black-and-white pen/brush and ink drawings sold out immediately; Random House also produced a trade edition.
Kent traveled three times to Greenland. He first sailed there in the summer of 1929 and his adventures (and misadventures) are recounted in the best-selling N by E (1930). After meeting Danish Arctic explorers Peter Freuchen and Knud Rasmussen in 1929, Kent determined to return to Greenland to paint and write. He spent two years (1931-32 and 1934-35) above the Arctic Circle in a tiny fishing settlement called Igdlorssuit (or Illorsuit), where he conceived some of the largest and most celebrated paintings of his career. Among his many cross-cultural encounters in Greenland was with Leni Riefenstahl, the famed German actress who was briefly in Illorsuit with the film crew of S.O.S. Iceberg. Kent's own movie-making aspirations, including a quasi-documentary film featuring the Inuit, are documented in Rockwell Kent and Hollywood (Jake Milgram Wien, 2002), cited below. Many of Kent's historic photographs and hand-tinted lantern slides are reproduced for the first time in North by Nuuk: Greenland after Rockwell Kent (Denis Defibaugh, 2019), also cited below.
Raymond Moore, founder and impresario of the Cape Playhouse and Cinema in Dennis, Massachusetts, contracted with Rockwell Kent for the design of murals for the cinema, but the work of transferring and painting the designs on the 6,400-square-foot (590 m) span was done by Kent's collaborator Jo Mielziner (1901–1976) and a crew of stage set painters from New York City. Ostensibly staying away from the state of Massachusetts to protest the Sacco and Vanzetti executions of 1927, Kent did in fact venture to Dennis in June 1930 to spend three days on the scaffolding, making suggestions and corrections. The signatures of both Kent and Mielziner appear on opposite walls of the cinema.
Kent's political activism came to the fore in the latter part of the 1930s, when he took part in several initiatives of the cultural popular front, including support for the Spanish Republic and the subsequent war against fascism. Most notably, he participated in the American Artists' Congress at the time of its formation in 1936 and later served as an officer of the Artists' Union of America and then the Artists' League of America in their efforts to represent artists to boards, museums and dealers. In 1948 he stood for Congress as an American Labor Party candidate supporting Henry Wallace's Progressive Party presidential campaign as the best option for extending the legacy of the New Deal.
As World War II approached, Kent shifted his priorities, becoming increasingly active in progressive politics. In 1937, the Section of Painting and Sculpture of the U.S. Treasury commissioned Kent, along with nine other artists, to paint two murals in the New Post Office building at the Federal Triangle in Washington, DC; the two murals are named "Mail Service in the Arctic" and "Mail Service in the Tropics" to celebrate the reach of domestic airborne postal service. Kent included (in an Alaska Native language and in tiny letters) a polemical statement in the painting, apparently a message from the indigenous people of Alaska to the Puerto Ricans, in support of decolonization. As translated, the communication read "To the peoples of Puerto Rico, our friends: Go ahead, let us change chiefs. That alone can make us equal and free". The incident caused some consternation.
Kent's patriotism never waned in spite of his often critical views of American foreign policy. He remained America's premier draftsman of the sea, and during World War II he produced a series of pen/brush and ink maritime drawings for American Export Lines and began another series of pen/brush and ink drawings for Rahr Malting Company which he completed in 1946. The drawings were reproduced in To Thee!, a book Kent also wrote and designed celebrating American freedom and democracy and the important role immigrants play in constructing American national identity. In 1948 Kent was elected to the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and in 1966 he became a full Academician. However, the political changes of the Cold War and the rise of abstract expressionism cast shadows over his art and representational painting in general.
Kent was not a Communist and considered his political views to be in the best traditions of American democracy. However, his participation in the Stockholm Appeal and the World Peace Council led to the suspension of his passport in 1950. After he filed suit to regain his foreign-travel rights, in June 1958 the U.S. Supreme Court in Kent v. Dulles affirmed his right to travel by declaring the ban a violation of his civil rights. Meanwhile, Kent also came under attack as an officer of the International Workers Order, a mutual benefit and cultural society supported by leftists and immigrants. In 1951 Kent defended his record in court proceedings and exposed the perjured testimony that claimed he was a Communist.
From 1957 to 1971 Kent was president of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship. After a well-received exhibition of his work in Moscow at the Pushkin Museum in 1957–58, he donated several hundred of his paintings and drawings to the Soviet peoples in 1960. He subsequently became an honorary member of the Soviet Academy of Fine Arts and in 1967 the recipient of the International Lenin Peace Prize. Kent specified that his prize money be given to the women and children of Vietnam, both North and South. (The nature of Kent's gift is clarified by his wife Sally in the 2005 documentary Rockwell Kent, produced and written by Fred Lewis.)
When Kent died of a heart attack in 1971, The New York Times described him as "... a thoughtful, troublesome, profoundly independent, odd and kind man who made an imperishable contribution to the art of bookmaking in the United States." Retrospectives of the artist's paintings and drawings have been mounted, most recently by The Rooms in St. John's, Newfoundland, where the exhibition Pointed North: Rockwell Kent in Newfoundland and Labrador was curated by Caroline Stone in the summer of 2014. Other exhibitions include the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery and Owen D. Young Library at St. Lawrence University (Canton, New York) in the autumn of 2012; the Farnsworth Art Museum (Rockland, Maine) during the spring through autumn of 2012; the Bennington Museum in Vermont during the summer of 2012; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the spring through summer of 2012. An exhibition marking the centennial of Kent's time in Winona, Minnesota, took place there in 2013. One of Kent's exemplary pen-and-ink drawings from Moby Dick appears on a U.S. postage stamp issued as part of the 2001 commemorative panel celebrating American Illustration, with other artistic examples by Maxfield Parrish, Frederic Remington, and Norman Rockwell.
2018 through 2020 is the 100th anniversary of Kent's visit to Alaska, his stay on Fox Island and the publication of Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska. The letters he wrote and received during that time reveal a less than quiet experience beneath his book's narrative. The correspondence with his wife, Kathleen, and his letters to Hildegarde Hirsch, his lover of that time, are especially interesting. A more detailed story can be found at the blog Rockwell Kent "Wilderness" Centennial Journal..
Currently, Rockwell Kent is 138 years, 10 months and 20 days old. Rockwell Kent will celebrate 139th birthday on a Monday 21st of June 2021.
Find out about Rockwell Kent birthday activities in timeline view here.