Cecil Kennedy was born in Leyton on 4 February 1905. His large Victorian family was very artistic, and Cecil was one of the most renowned members of the English Contemporary School with his minutely detailed paintings of flowers. He exhibited often after his initial schooling in London; by the age of 24 he had shown Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Hibernian Academy. He then went on to exhibit regularly at the Royal Academy in London, and from the 1950s to 1970s he exhibited regularly at the Fine Art Society. He won a silver medal at the Paris Salon of 1956 and a gold medal in 1970.
His oeuvre is actually collaboration with his wife Winifred Aves – for sixty-four years she would create the flower arrangements that Kennedy painted – and together they collected Waterford vases from the mid-eighteenth century that also came up regularly in Kennedy’s work.
Kennedy’s work is reminiscent of the still lives of Dutch and Flemish old masters, and his station in Antwerp during the winter of 1944 when fighting the Second World War would help him befriend Flemish painters who would profoundly impact his style. In his work he often juxtaposes modern exotic hybrid blooms with traditional English flowers and grasses, and flora celebrated in the work of the Old Masters. His use of all white flower arrangements reflected his awareness of 20th-century horticultural trends such as Vita Sackville-West’s White Garden at Sissinghurst.
The artist had many important British patrons during his life, including the Duke of Windsor and the Astors. Queen Mary is quoted as saying “When I see Cecil Kennedy’s pictures I can smell the flowers and hear the hum of the bees”. It was she who noticed a ladybird that Kennedy had painted on the stem of a flower in one of his paintings. Hence it could be seen as patriotic that Kennedy always incorporated a ladybird into his paintings thereafter.
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