Thomas Benjamin Kennington

(7 April 1856 - 10 December 1916)

English genre and portrait painter, born in Grimsby in Lincolnshire and trained in art at the Liverpool School of Art (winning a gold medal), the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, and the Academie Julien in Paris, where he studied under Bougereau and Robert-Fleury. He later moved to Chelsea in London.

He exhibited at the Royal Academy, London from 1880-1916, and also regularly showed his work at the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA) in Suffolk Street and the Grosvenor gallery. He was a founder member and first secretary of the New English Art Club (from 1886), and also founded the Imperial Arts League, whose stated purpose was to "protect and promote the interests of Artists and to inform, advise and assist." He won a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1889.

Kennington became known not only for his idealised paintings of domestic and everyday-life scenes, but also for his social realist works. Paintings such as:

The Ace of Hearts (1882) Orphans (1885) Widowed and Fatherless (1888)
The Wedding Dress (1889) Homeless (1890) The Pinch of Poverty (1891)
Idle Hours (1892) The Siesta of Diana (1898) Queen Victoria (1898)
Autumn (1900) The Letter (1906) Polishing the Brass (1912)
Temptation (1914) Peek, Frean & Co's Biscuits London [Poster], Derived from "The Toy Shop" (1891).

Kennington depicted the harsh realities of life for the poor in Britain in a manner that played on the onlooker's emotions. It has been suggested that he may have been influenced by the Spanish painter Murillo (1618–1682), whose work also featured street children. He painted in both oils and watercolour. Kennington died in London on 10 December 1916. His son Eric Kennington (1888-1960) was also a notable artist, illustrator and sculptor.


Painter of everyday life, with emphasis on pathos and emotion, and of portraits. Studied at Liverpool School of Art, at the R.C.A. and at the Académie Julian in Paris. Original member and first Secretary of the N.E.A.C. 1886, and one of the founders of the Imperial Arts League. Exhibited at the R.A. 1880–1916, also at the R.B.A., Grosvenor Gallery, R.I. and in Paris. © Tate, London


Born in Grimsby England on April 7, 1856, Thomas Benjamin Kennington trained at an impressive line of schools including the Liverpool School of Art, the South Kensington School of Art, and finally the Academie Julien in Paris with William Bouguereau, Jules Lefebvre, and Tony Robert-Fleury. Throughout his life he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and his work was also seen at the Royal Society of British Arts and the famous Grosvenor Gallery. His work was well appreciated and he won a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1889.

Kennington was a social activist who cared deeply about the poor and believed strongly in the artists' community. He was a founder and first secretary of the New English Art Club whose purpose was to provide exhibition opportunities for artists who were not accepted to show at the Royal Academy or who were dissatisfied with its supremacy. Kennington was also a founder of the Imperial Arts League, which still exists today as The Artist's League of Great Britain. The Artists' League was founded in 1909, with the purpose of protecting and promoting the interests of artists in matters of business such as copyrights, contracts, and insurance. Kennington often painted, like many of his contemporaries, the plight of the impoverished and destitute in order to draw attention to the need for social reform. As well, he was a painter of beauty and scenes from everyday life. He became a well-established portrait artist, painting Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1898. Kennington died in London, December 10, 1916. Today, his paintings can be found in many museums and in public locations throughout England and Australia, including:

UK Australia
Tate (London) Art Gallery of South Australia
Alfred East Art Gallery Permanent Collection Bendigo Art Gallery
Atkinson Art Gallery Collection Christchurch Art Gallery in New Zealand
Royal Shakespeare Company Collection
Whitworth Art Gallery
University of Manchester
Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council
Grimsby Town Hall
Museum of Lincolnshire Life
Royal Society of Medicine
The Royal College of Surgeons of England
The Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
North East Lincolnshire Museum Service
Retford Town Hall
Bassetlaw District Council
The Foundling Museum

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In his painting, "The Ace of Hearts" (1882), Kennignton captures both beauty and elegance. The viewer stands witness to a magic trick. From the direct look of the young woman, the viewer feels as though he must be the one participating in the show. It is only after looking at the mirror on the wall that one sees the sitter is looking straight through the viewer to a gentleman who is scratching his neck and feeling quite off his guard, most likely due to the combination of the mystifying magician's trick along side the sitter's beauty and charm. "The Ace of Hearts" which she points to with victorious excitement would seem to indicate that she has the correct card which is also the trump card, and in fact she has all the cards in the deck. Amidst the frills and fur a leopard's head sticks out as the original owner of the now decorative throw. It is hard to say whether the expression is one of hostility toward the gentleman, letting him know to keep his distance, as a protector of the young woman, or if the look is one of terror, perhaps reflecting a sense of panic in the man, as the young seductress makes her advances.


View Painter's work: Thomas Benjamin Kennington (1856-1916) [new window view]