Ken Howard was one of Britain’s leading figurative and landscape painters. While he has been celebrated for his skilled studio nudes and scenes of London, he is best known for his brilliant and highly influential depictions of Venice, where he would spend large portions of the year drawing and painting in situ. Howard saw himself as ‘the last impressionist’, an epithet worthy of over 70 years spent capturing the effects of light in his canvases.
The younger of two children, James Kenneth Howard was born in Neasden, north-west London, in 1932. Howard’s virtuosity was evident from a very young age; as child he could draw and paint before he could write. Further encouraged by his art teacher at Kilburn Grammar School, he won a place at Hornsey College of Art, where he studied from 1949 to 1953.
After completing his national service in 1955, during which time he honed his craft painting portraits of the officers’ wives, he would enrol in the Royal College of Art. At that time, the overwhelming vogue was for abstract expressionism, yet Kenneth always remained true to his unique style derived from the en plein air art of the impressionists, with Corot’s painting being perhaps Howard’s greatest influence. A master at capturing the fall of light, the young artist departed from the fashionable mainstream stating that ‘for me, my main inspiration is light, and it is through light that I want to celebrate my world’. Increasingly feeling, as he put it, ‘out of kilter’ in the London art scene he applied for and won a British Council Scholarship to Florence in 1958, a pivotal moment in the artist’s career. For the next 70 years the light and landscapes of Italy would exert a continual pull on Howard, and his skill at capturing them would form the basis for his success.
Ken Howard, 'View from the Accademia', sold to a discerning collector.
While avant-garde critics might have dismissed his work as saccharine in his early career, Howard’s direct observation and brilliant lighting quickly struck a chord with the public, whose support never wavered across the artist’s long career. Such were his continual successes at the Summer Exhibition that Howard would observe ‘I’ve probably got more pictures on people’s walls than any other painter living today’. His ‘traditional’ manner of painting, founded on his excellent draughtsmanship and tonal precision and elevated by his unique observational skills, have influenced a large number of today’s landscape painters.
Ken Howard, 'Contemplation', sold to an illustrious collector.
Ken Howard’s commercial successes in the 1960s and 1970s quickly began to establish him as first a leader, and then an elder statesman, of traditional British art. Howard received more awards and positions than can be listed here, yet a few stand out in particular. Elected to the Royal Academy in 1991, he would go on to serve as the Professor of Perspective from 2004 to 2010 before being appointed OBE, a rare award for an artist. As president of the New English Art Club and patron of Turner’s House Trust alongside his RA positions, Howard exerted a decisive influence on multiple generations of young artists. Having lived and worked in London for the majority of his career, Ken Howard died in September 2022.