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Eric Kennington RA, Abd-el-Rahman

Abd-el-Rahman, 1921

Eric Kennington RA (1888 - 1960)

RA Collection: Art

This pastel portrait was one of the original illustrations to the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence of Arabia's autobiographical account of his role in the Arab revolt against the Turks during the First World War. It depicts Abd el-Rahman, who is described in Book V as 'a runaway slave from Riadh, now freedman of Mohammed el-Dheilan, the Toweihi'. El-Rahman was one of Lawrence's bodyguards and became a valued member of his entourage.

Lawrence began to collect illustrations for book in the early 1920s and approached the artist Eric Kennington for advice on this matter. After reading Lawrence's manuscript, Kennington was so enthused by the project that he agreed to visit the Middle East to draw portraits of people who featured in the memoir. On his return in June 1921 these works were exhibited at the Leicester Galleries, London, and became known as the 'Kennington Arabs'. Lawrence subsequently commissioned Kennington to produce similar portraits of British officials and also to design endpapers for the book. The 'Subscriber's Edition' of the Seven Pillars was published in 1926 with 125 illustrations including those by Kennington and others by contemporary artists including Augustus John, William Nicholson, William Rothenstein, Gilbert Spencer, Paul Nash and John Singer Sargent.

Lawrence and Kennington became good friends during the process of publishing the book, the former commenting that the artist was 'a great man, an exceedingly fine draughtsman, and a good psychologist'. Kennington claimed that The Seven Pillars moved him to 'incongruous mirth' and he made a number of comic sketches based on the text. Lawrence approved of these, stating that 'it's good that someone is decent enough to find laughter in a stodgy mess of mock-heroic egotism'. Kennington is best-known for his graphic work and for the portrait drawings and studies he produced as an official war artist from 1917 to 1919 and again from 1939 to 1942. He was also a talented sculptor and worked mostly in this medium from the 1920s onwards.

Kennington also produced a bust of Lawrence (1926, Tate Britain), a recumbent tomb effigy for St Martin's Church, Wareham, Dorset and a memorial wall plaque for the Oxford School (commissioned by Sir Winston Churchill).

Object details

Eric Kennington RA (1888 - 1960)
Object type
Pastel on green-toned paper

494 mm x 558 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Diploma Work given by Eric Kennington RA accepted 1959
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