Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kennion, Edward

KENNION, EDWARD (1744–1809), artist, was born on 15 Jan. 1743–4 in Liverpool, where his father, James Kennion, was engaged in business. His grandfather, John Kennion, was for many years minister of the (unitarian) Ancient Chapel of Toxteth Park, Liverpool, and was a man of high education. A kinsman, John Kennion, took charge of Edward's education, placing him first at John Holt's school in Liverpool, and sending him when he was fifteen to Mr. Fuller's academy in London, where he probably first learned drawing. In 1762 he sailed for Jamaica, and joined the expedition against the Havannah under Sir George Pococke and the Earl of Albemarle, in which John Kennion was commissary. After the capture of the place he returned to England for a time, but again went out to Jamaica in 1765 to superintend John Kennion's estates, and remained there almost continuously till July 1769, when he returned to England. By a commission dated 11 April of that year he was appointed an aide-de-camp, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, to the commander-in-chief of the island.

On settling in England he engaged in trade in London. His marriage in 1774 with Ann Bengough, a Worcester lady, brought him some property, but he continued in business till 1782, when he retired to Rydd-Green, near Malvern. About 1771 he had made the acquaintance of George Barret, R.A., and in the following years accompanied him on sketching tours. At Rydd-Green he occupied himself in making drawings for a book on landscape-painting which he had long contemplated. In 1784 appeared in 4to No. 1 of a work on remains of antiquity, which contained five perspective views of ancient castles on the Welsh border, and three ground plans engraved in line by R. Godfrey, with full descriptions by Kennion (cf. Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iii. 263). The winters of 1787 and 1788 were passed in London, where he gave drawing lessons, and in 1789 he removed thither altogether, adopting the profession of a teacher and artist. He was admitted a member of the Society of Artists, and was a constant contributor of landscapes to its exhibitions, sending in all twenty-four works. He was also a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He exhibited eight landscapes at the Royal Academy between 1790 and 1807. Meanwhile he continued to work at his book on landscapes during frequent visits to the neighbourhood of Liverpool and the English lakes. In 1790 he etched eight plates as examples of the oak-tree, which were published with a preface as No. 1 of ‘Elements of Landscape and Picturesque Beauty,’ ob. 4to. The death of an uncle, Dr. Kennion, a Liverpool physician, in 1791, increased his resources, and in 1803 he issued a full prospectus of the proposed work. His project had expanded into an exhaustive treatise on the graphic art in 4 vols. He laboured at it conscientiously, and final arrangements were made for the publication of a first volume early in 1809. But before matters went further Kennion died suddenly in London on 14 April. He left a widow and four children.

Of all Kennion's collections for his large enterprise, ‘An Essay on Trees in Landscape’ was alone found ready for press. This was issued in 1815, many of the plates being engraved or finished in aquatint and soft ground etching by his son Charles [see infra]. The volume, which is in folio, contains fifty etched and aquatinted plates, a preface, a biographical notice, and forty-eight pages of letterpress. With a copy in the Manchester Free Library ‘four large unpublished landscapes by Kennion, and six studies of trees beautifully etched by H. W. Williams,’ were bound up in 1844. The four landscapes are soft ground etchings after Kennion by Vivares, folded on guards. There seems no reason to suppose the six studies were after Kennion's drawings. A soft ground etching (in the present writer's collection), numbered plate xxi, and dated 1 Dec. 1796, was published in the volume as ‘plate xx, June 27, 1814.’ It is signed ‘C. J. Kennion,’ and is mainly by Kennion's son. A small proof soft ground etching, on which is written ‘Oak at Northan, near Enfield’ (also belonging to the present writer), has a figure and cattle introduced, as was usually the case in Kennion's finished drawings. Kennion seldom painted in oil, and his earlier work was usually executed in Indian ink and pencil, but he subsequently tinted his drawings, and finally, under the influence of his friend, George Barret, painted with a full strength of colour. He contended that it was possible by the touch and manner of the execution to indicate the exact foliage represented, and he practically illustrated his opinion in his drawings. He had a very thorough knowledge of the principles of art, and drew with great skill and accuracy.

Charles John Kennion (1789–1853) painted in water-colour much in the style of his father, and his drawings are interesting and well finished. He exhibited between 1804 and 1853 twenty-six landscapes at the Royal Academy, and five at the Suffolk Street Gallery. He died in Robert Street, Regent's Park, London, on 10 Sept. 1853 (Gent. Mag. 1853, ii. 538).

[Memoir in Kennion's Essay on Trees; Davis's Toxteth Park Chapel, 1884; Graves's Dict. of Artists; private information.]

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