Andrew Lambirth

Flying colours

If you take the Tube to Colindale on the Northern Line and then hop on a 303 bus or walk for ten minutes, you arrive at the Royal Air Force Museum, open daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., admission free. The place is full of planes, as might be expected, and has a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere (not nearly as frenetic as the Imperial War Museum) and a feeling of spaciousness. The Museum also mounts temporary exhibitions, and the one that drew my attention is of the pastel portraits of Eric Kennington (1888–1960), a war artist in both world wars, and an incomparable draughtsman, interesting painter and tough, inventive sculptor. The exhibition has been curated by the Kennington expert, Dr Jonathan Black, who has written a substantial and densely informative catalogue (£19.99 in paperback), with detailed entries for more than 100 individual pictures, to accompany and commemorate this display.

The Art Gallery is on the first floor, most easily accessed via the Conference Reception entrance, and is a large, dimly lit room with a couple of standing display cases containing uniforms, model aeroplanes and medals, and an array of Kennington’s pastel portraits around the walls. They’re all framed behind glass (which is essential to protect them) but the visitor is prevented from approaching them too closely by a safety barrier. The reflections on the glass (evidently non-reflective museum glass is too expensive an option) make them difficult to see from a distance, and the experience of viewing them would be greatly eased if the unnecessary ‘safety’ barrier were removed.

Kennington is rightly regarded as a supreme draughtsman, but are these works drawings or paintings? The colour and modelling has all the authority of painting, and though the pastel medium is essentially a linear one, Kennington’s approach is almost sculptural in its convincing three-dimensionality.

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