Transforming IWM London

The Kensingtons at Laventie

IWM Non Commercial Licence

The media for this item are free to reuse for non-commercial purposes under the IWM Non Commercial Licence. Video, sound and images can be embedded with the code we offer here, and images can also be downloaded.

By downloading any images or embedding any media, you agree to the terms and conditions of the IWM Non Commercial Licence, including your use of the attribution statement specified by IWM. For this item, that is: © IWM (Art.IWM ART 15661)

  • Download this item

    Embed HTML

    Embed BBCode

  • Download this item

    Embed HTML

    Embed BBCode

  • Download this item

    Embed HTML

    Embed BBCode

Catalogue number
  • Art.IWM ART 15661
Display status
IWM London
Production date
1915
Subject period
Materials
  • medium: oil
  • support: glass
Dimensions
  • Support: Height 1397 mm
  • Support: Width 1524 mm
  • frame: Height 1600 mm
  • frame: Width 1820 mm
  • frame: Depth 65 mm
  • display cover: Height 2140 mm
  • display cover: Width 2360 mm
  • display cover: Depth 130 mm
Alternative Names
  • object category: painting
Creator
Category
art
IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUMS

Buy a Print

Object description

image: A platoon of British soldiers standing in a village street. There is an exterior whitewashed wall in the background, snow on the ground, debris scattered around to the right, and above, a calvary cross in the top corner of the composition. The figures are loosely grouped on the left, with one man lying sprawled on the ground below, and another standing off to the right. Each man stares off in a different direction. Metal objects, a helmet, a fork and a belt-buckle are picked out in gold metallic paint.

Label

Eric Kennington served in the 13th Battalion, The London Regiment, popularly known as ‘The Kensingtons’, from 1914 until June 1915, experiencing front-line duties during the bitterly cold first winter of the war. The painting depicts men in his unit, Platoon no. 7, C Company, and includes a self-portrait. He shows a moment when his platoon, exhausted from four days and sleepless nights in the fire trench in twenty degrees of frost and almost continuous snow, have made their way through the deep mud of a communications trench to the comparative protection of the ruined village at Laventie. The men are waiting for their Corporal to give the order to ‘Fall in’ for the next part of the journey: a march of five miles to a billet outside the shelling area. The painting is a reverse painting on glass, with the exterior layers of paint applied first which gives the oils a particular clarity. The complexity of the composition and technique caused Kennington to claim he had ‘travelled some 500 miles while painting the picture on the back of the glass, dodging round to the front to see all was well’. Kennington painted this tribute to his comrades after he was invalided out of the army in 1915. It was first exhibited at the Goupil Gallery in 1916, in aid of the Star and Garter Building Fund and Kennington’s accompanying notes detailed the individual soldiers and their experiences. The portraits are of Private A. 'Sweeney' Todd (foreground) and (left to right) Private H Bristol in the red scarf, Private A. McCafferty carrying two rifles, the artist in balaclava, Private W Harvey, Private P A Guy, known as 'Good Little Guy', Lance-Corporal H Wilson in balaclava, Private M Slade resting both hands on his rifle and Corporal J Kealey. The unemotional depiction of the hardships and endurance of the common soldier was praised by critics and Kennington was to develop these themes during subsequent visits to the Western Front as an artist. 'The Kensingtons at Laventie' is the artist's most exceptional and most famous work. It reflects the style of the then out-of-date Pre- Raphaelites, but also has qualities reminiscent of earlier art; from Pieter Breughel to Russian icon painting. There are also notable parallels to Uccello’s 'Battle of San Romano', 1438-40, in the perspectival layout, the high finish and liberal use of gold paint.

 

Kennington and members of his platoon rest in the village of Laventie after four days in the trenches in bitter weather. Exhausted and pensive, they await orders to 'Fall in' for the next part of their journey. The picture is a complex reverse painting on glass, where exterior layers of paint are applied first, giving the oils a particular clarity. Kennington painted this tribute to his comrades after he was invalided out of the army in 1915. He claimed he had 'travelled some 500 miles while painting the picture on the back of the glass, dodging round to the front to see all was well.'

Comments (1)

Comments are the user's own and in no-way express the opinion of the IWM. Read our community policy for more details.
Please note that we cannot reply to comments made here. Find out how to ask questions or tell us something.

Add a comment

Showing 1 - 1 of 1

  • james rogers :

    18 August 2013 at 10:34
    I came across this site and page by accident having read the poem Laventie by Ivor Gurney. I was already emotionally on edge and the painting moved me to tears. All these brave boys and young men. What did they die for? Europe has fallen into the hands of corrupt politicians and fraudulent bankers and financiers. If only some of these soldiers could return and cleanse the temple.

Add a comment

Please stay polite and on-topic: