Sunday, 23 January 2011

Town & country: Kenneth Broad (1889 - 1959)

The more colour woodcuts I see by Kenneth Broad, the more I like what he was doing. Here are five prints, including two or three readers may not have seen. Three of them are currently for sale (the site details you'll find below) but I'm starting off with 'The circus, Southwold' kindly sent in by David. This really sums up what interested Broad - the temporary nature of the circus and the fairground, popular pastimes, vacant skies and a patchwork of gentle tones. A piece like this is far more telling and realistic than Hesketh Hubbard who deals in very similar imagery. Ironically, Broad's images themselves look rather static but he often paints with a more dynamic brush for sky and ground. This print was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1922 and may mark the start of his woodcut career.

Following on is 'A Breton Fair',one of his best fairground scenes. Apart from the fact that the people in the crowd are too small for the people in the foreground, this is strikes me as accomplished . The range of tones - the ochres and shades of pink and especially the lemons are wonderfully done. And again we have the delicate blues setting them off. 'A Sussex Farm' dates from around 1925 and he went on producing colour woodcuts untill the mid thirties when he became president of the society.

He was born at Stamford Brook in the west of London and went on to train at the Westminster School of Art. A number of the prints I have seen are London subjects and I don't think any other of his colour woodcut contemporaries was quite so meticulous about crowds. These scenes of his are as subtle as the colours he uses; they hint at both the countryside, with their fairs set up on commonland or even his street market (not shown here) and also at something seasonal. There is always a tree somewhere, often recognisable. In 'A Sussex Farm' there are elms; the tree in a 'The New Fair, Mitcham' below looks like a poplar. He may be a Londoner, with a Londoner's liking for crowds, but he can also tell one tree from another. He also uses them to let us know what time of year it is.

Once he had trained, he became articled to a firm of architects and eventually set up in a practice in Bloomsbury. St Martin's in the Fields, which was only ten or fifteen minutes walk from his office, is the most architectural piece I have come across, but all the prints have a great deal of less obvious architecture. His imagination not only works round C18th churches, it also includes tents, cottages, caravans, even hoardings. His prints are very strong on structures and I very much suspect he spent time in the National Gallery, which you can see above to the left, looking at Paolo Uccello's 'Battle of San Romano'. There is nothing insignificant about Broad's details; the painted posts in the fairground below are reminiscent of Uccello's lances. (The range of colours in the first print and Uccello's painting are also remarkably similar). It also a great crowd scene (as battles tend to be) and for all the downbeat 1920s urbanism in Broad, there is still something of the student who was sent in to study the artists of the past. Broad is often busy but he also has depth.

As with Ethel Kirkpatrick, I think he comes to colour woodcut with the British topographical tradition behind him. Like her, he also used watercolour. Unlike her, he went in for stripes, struts, columns, lamposts, telegraph poles - he carefully divides his pictures up. I suppose what I really like about him is that he is specific. You can work out the time of year and even the time of day he is describing. He quietly observes the whole environment. He may not be modernist but he is thorough - he enjoys the details. It beats me that anyone as interesting as he is, could have been forgotten the way he was. Perhaps the real problem is that you need to see a number of his prints together, for him to begin to make real sense. It's because he is specific that you need to see them all. And, of course, Uccello. [ Fittingly, all the three prints are for sale in London or nearby. The first fairground print is at ; Grosvenor Prints in London have St Martin in the Fields, complete with water damage but fairly priced ; finally and also in London, with the New Fair, Mitcham I am grateful to all of them.]


  1. Charles, these 4 pictures is that all there is (left)to the printings of Broad? Is he really so scarce? I happen to know the owner of (one of) the great farmhouse print, laundry on the line included. What a detail.

  2. Yes, I like the washing, too. It's typically Broad, very ordinary but telling. The photo doesn't do the print any justice.

    Clive has covered other prints by him - another London street market, the quay at Whitby and a pair of nursery prints. There are eight in all I think we know about. But others will turn up and you will buy one.

  3. Is there more work by Broad known ? Yours is perticularly nice, it's totally England and the way he applied the paint/ink very Japonic. Youl'd almost wish there was a series of English landsacapes by him. I like the prints with the crowds etc... but that landcape is lovely.

  4. The way he applies the paint for the sky and ground provides a striking contrast to the detail on a number of the prints. He calculated well because it's not at all realistic in the Western sense yet it works.

    The list of Broad prints known to me is nine but I expect more in the post.

  5. I looked at past auction results for Broad and there were two Colour woodcuts "The Coach" and "The Lady and the Gardener". .. but no images.. the search goes on... David

  6. They are what I called the nursery prints for short. They seem to come up as a pair. If you do a google image search for Broad, you will find the ones that Clive has. But he has a number of posts on Broad. Clive mentions another named image of Croyden where KB lived.

  7. Charles,

    you have changed the top of your page. Is the new image from a KB-print, too?

    greetings & it's good you're back,


    P.S.: We still have to arrange the details of the 1st meeting of the Kirkpatrick-society, don't we? (I feel honoured) :-)

  8. Thanks for the welcome home, Klaus. The new header isn't Broad; it's a trailer for a forthcoming artist. But there's a complete re-think on Paul Leschhorn coming next.

    The Ethel Kirkpatrick Society strikes me as a name for a new blog. I am open to suggestions but Cairo is out.

  9. My mother (his niece now in her 90's) has a vast collection of his art, including sone fabulous images of the seaside around Polzeath.

  10. Many thanks for your comment.

    I'm in touch with David Broad who must be your cousin (and have also been in touch with his sister, Nicola, a long time ago), so it is a bonus to hear from another family member. I'm assuming the collection your mother has is watercolours but are there any woodcuts, too. You can always write privately to me I would love to hear more details about your mother's collection and what she remembers about her uncle.

    By the way, was it your grandmother or grandfather who was Kenneth Broad's brother/sister?

  11. PS That was David Broad commenting above.