#fridayfocus…Harry Kernoff’s sketches and drawings

This post is more of a ‘drawing-attention-to’ than a full post. As you will have noticed there has been no #fridayfocus in the past few weeks – I’ve been busy getting a chapter finished and then working on revisions, so I can get it wrapped up before starting on my AAH paper! So busy busy, but one thing that I noticed during some down time was that the lovely people in the National Gallery of Ireland have put a number of Harry Kernoff’s sketches and life drawings on to their website.

After the artist’s death in 1974, his sister was left with the task of sorting out the contents of his studio in the attic of their home at 13 Stamer Street. While not quite as cluttered as say, the Francis Bacon studio at the Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane, it was filled with all sorts of things; sketches, paintings,  newspaper clippings… The collection was then divided between the NGI and the National Library of Ireland. The NLI have manuscript material, including the artist’s own newspaper clippings, and the original blocks for his woodcuts. In addition, the NGI have sketches, sketchbooks (including one particularly interesting one of material from his trip to Russia) and the artist’s photographs of his works.

For the researcher, these two archives are an invaluable resource. Often the artist did not date his work, but many of the sketches are meticulously detailed with the date, time, weather and location usually noted. Kernoff often completed many different versions of the one composition in a variety of media, and it’s easy to see how these sketches formed part of his process.

From time to time, Kernoff has been criticised for the lack of detail and anatomical preciseness in his representation of the human body, however the collection of sketches on the NGI website show that he was an accomplished draughtsman and had a strong interest in life drawing. Many of these works date to his student years in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where life drawing was an essential element of the teaching and training. At the opposite end of the spectrum perhaps, the collection also contains his many colourful mask watercolours and wonderful expressionist stage sets. The pencil portrait drawings show a sensitivity that is often missing from his pastel or oil portraits (am I alone in thinking this one looks a little like Edith from Downton?!) , and there are also number of self-portraits included.

So, if you have a spare few minutes, I would strongly encourage you to have a browse through this collection and enjoy seeing a different side to a familiar artist.

Published by katymilligan

Art Historian.

2 thoughts on “#fridayfocus…Harry Kernoff’s sketches and drawings

  1. Hi I live in Nova Scotia and my husband from Dublin was a friend of Harry’s. My husband was born in 1914. Anyways, when he would come home to his mother after a few gargles with my husband a Dublin man- his wonderful jewish mother would say to Harry at 61 or 65-he was, She would shout down the stairs: Have you met her yet, Harry? I have a drawing that he made of my husband (died in 99). It is an original of course-pencil sketch-my husband had a bookshop here and was a living monumnent that always hung out with artists and writers. Anyways, I also have somewhere a poem that he wrote about the bilious muck of modern painting. Hope your work is going well-if you would like to see it I am a photographer and teacher and could send a picture of it I will look for the poem.

    1. Hi Rhonda,

      Thank you so much for your comment; it’s always great to hear about another Kernoff connection!
      There are so many stories about him that are continually coming out of the woodwork as I continue
      with my research, and I really appreciate all of them. I have read the poem that you’re referring to, there
      is are copies available in a couple of archives here in Dublin. However, if you are willing to share it, I would love
      to see the sketch he did of your husband – was it done during Harry’s trip to Nova Scotia? You can contact me on milligak@tcd.ie

      Best wishes,


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