Thomas Barclay Hennell (1903-1945)


Thomas Barclay Hennell (1903-1945)


Gathering potatoes,

Inscribed, "Gathering potatoes/ Folkestone/ Sept 30 1931"

Pencil with pen highlights,

11 x 17½ inches



Click on image to expand

Hennell brings a classical composition to this rustic scene with the central towering worker marking the pinnacle of a triangle formed with the stooped figure groups to either side.

Thomas Barclay Hennell was born in Kent in 1903, the son of a clergyman. He was educated at Bradfield College and subsequently trained a the Regent Street Polytechnic as an art teacher. He was taught there by Marion Richardson whom he fell in love with (her later rejection of his marriage proposal may have contributed to his mental decline and ultimate committal to Claybury Mental Hospital from 1932 to 1935). 

He was friends with both Edward Bawden and Eric Ravillious and visited them at Great Bardfield. They rated his work very highly and described his scenes of rural life as "works of genius". Hennell, was to succeed Ravillious as an official war artist in Iceland and sadly, like Ravillious, this position was ultimately to lead to his death; whilst in Java in 1945 he was captured by Indonesian soldiers and was never to be seen again, presumed killed.

In a short life, punctuated by incapacitating mental illness and his duties as a war artist, he managed to follow and fulfil much of his own artistic drive. He brought his unique style to record the rapidly changing face of rural occupations in the first half of the 20th century both through his painting and writing. He produced illustrations for books by H C Massingham - including Country Relics (1939) and also for C H Warren  - The Land is Yours (1943) which were essentially elegies for by-gone and fast disappearing rural ways of life and agricultural methods. His own autobiographical book, Witnesses (1938), was a candid record of his own experience of schizophrenia and his time in a mental institution.

He exhibited regularly throughout  his lifetime at the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours and the New English Art Club. His work is very well represented in both public and private collections including the Imperial War Museum, the Tate, The V & A and several provincial museums throughout the country.

Other works by this artist on the website:


© Nicholas Holloway 2020


01473 788707


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