James Kenneth Howard, OBE RA HonRWS HonRBA ROI RWA PPNEAC HonSGFA (1932-2022) Ken Howard was one of Britain’s best-loved artists, his light-filled landscapes and studio scenes being always greatly anticipated by visitors to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Ken Howard was born in London on 26 December 1932, the younger of two children of Frank Howard, a Lancashire-born mechanical fitter, and his Scottish wife, Elizabeth (née Meikle), who took in lodgers and worked as a domestic cleaner. He and his family spent his earliest years in a flat in Alder Grove, Cricklewood, moving to a house in Review Road, Neasden, when he was about six years old. While still a child, he determined to become a painter, and received inspiration and support from Robert Whitmore, his art master at Kilburn Grammar School, during the years 1944-49. It was Whitmore who encouraged him to study at Hornsey College of Art, where, between 1949 and 1953, he applied himself and made excellent progress, arguably becoming the star of his year. As a result, he gained the confidence to apply early for the Royal College of Art, and received a place.
However, he could take it up only after he had undertaken two years of National Service, in which he served with the Royal Marines at Plymouth, in Devon. During this time, he regularly attended life classes at Plymouth Arts Centre, and its organisers, recognising his talents, offered him his first solo show. Consisting mainly of portraits of Royal Marines, his exhibition sold well and received some national press coverage. Consequently, he received a number of commissions, including one by the Royal Marine barracks for a portrait of the wife of General Cornwall. More negatively, he arrived at the Royal College of Art, in 1955, with too much of a reputation, so that he was initially singled out for criticism by some members of staff. He also felt that his social realist approach to painting was greatly in contrast to the interest shown by many fellow students in Abstract Expressionism. The situation improved in the second year, when the more supportive Carel Weight took over as Professor of Painting, and he was better able to respond to the teaching, including that of his tutor in drawing, Rodney Burn. In his third year, he succeeded in gaining an Italian government scholarship, which allowed him, on finishing at the RCA in 1958, to study in Florence for up to a year. This would be his third trip abroad, he having twice visited Spain while a student. During his time in Tuscany, sharing a studio in the village of Viuzzo di Monteripaldi, he met the German student, Christa Köhler. She was his first love and, much later, his second wife (by which time she was an established artist known as Christa Gaa).
On his return to London, in 1959, Ken Howard taught almost full-time for a year across four art schools: Ealing, Berkhamsted, Harrow and Walthamstow. He then kept on his days at Harrow and Walthamstow, particularly enjoying the calibre of students at the latter, which included Ian Drury, Peter Greenaway and Bill Jacklin. The head of Walthamstow, Stuart Ray, encouraged him to exhibit at the New English Art Club, and he became a member in 1962 (serving as President from 1998 to 2003).
In 1962, Ken Howard also married Annie Popham, a dress design student at Harrow, and they took a flat in the King’s Road, Chelsea. When she finished her studies at the RCA, they settled in Hampton Hill, Richmond, first buying a small cottage, and later moving to a large house. During this period, he produced illustrative work for a range of clients, and showed work with exhibiting societies, including the Royal Academy, and dealers, including Wildenstein and the John Whibley Gallery (holding solo shows at the latter in 1966 and 1968). As a result of his winning first prize in the Lord Mayor’s Art Award, in 1966, he was invited to join the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. Beyond London, Plymouth Art Gallery held a retrospective in 1972. Two years later, in 1974, his marriage to Annie was dissolved. She went on to become the director of a large fashion company, and married another designer. He regained contact with Christa.
From 1971, Ken Howard was represented by the New Grafton Gallery, and held 15 solo shows there over a period of two decades, as well as others internationally. In 1973, he was asked by the Imperial War Museum to work in Northern Ireland, the first such commission made by the museum since the Second World War. For about a decade, he would work on and off with the British Army in the province and internationally. Among his many major paintings of the period, Ulster Crucifixion won a prize in 1978 at the John Moores exhibition, Liverpool. He also worked independently on landscapes. While retaining his London studio, in South Bolton Gardens, he spent more time at his other studios in south-west England: in Sampford Spiney, on Dartmoor, and Mousehole, in Cornwall. In 1981, he was elected to the Royal West of England Academy.
In the early 1980s, Christa Gaa joined Ken Howard in London. When he won first prize in the Hunting Group Award, in 1982, she suggested that they spend the prize money on a painting trip to India. The results included a solo show in Delhi in 1983. In the same year, he was elected to the membership of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours and – of particular importance to him – as an Associate of the Royal Academy. He became a full Royal Academician in 1991. While exhibiting regularly at the societies of which he was a member through the 80s and 90s, he also held numerous solo shows, including several at the St Helier Gallery, Jersey, Lowndes Lodge Gallery, London, and the Brian Sinfield Gallery, Burford. He was finally able to marry Christa in 1990, though sadly she died in 1992. Almost a decade later, in the year 2000, he married Dora Bertolutti.
Between 2002 and 2017, Ken Howard was represented by Richard Green, and held solo shows at his gallery almost annually. He continued to exhibit regularly in his final years, and he has also garnered a number of honours, including election to the Royal Academy Professor of Perspective (2004), appointment as Freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers (2007), election as Senior Royal Academician (2008) and the award of an OBE for his services to Art (2010).
The author of several books, Ken Howard published his autobiography, Light and Dark in 2011.
Ken Howard held an exhibition of Swiss landscapes at the Royal Academy in 2016.
Ken Howard died in Cornwall on 11 September 2022.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the City of London Corporation and the Imperial War Museums; and Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.