Rockwell Kent Biography

Rockwell Kent




Rockwell Kent, engraver, lithographer, block printer, painter, mural painter, illustrator, lecturer, writer, and political activist was born June 21, 1882, in Tarrytown Heights, New York. He studied architecture briefly at the University of Columbia in New York but found he was inclined to painting and at the age of 16 he studied landscape and marine painting under William Merritt Chase for two years. From 1903-1904 he attended the New York School of Art and studied under Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller. For the summer of 1903 he apprenticed under Abbott Thayer in Dublin, New Hampshire.

With a suggestion from Henri, Kent settled on the island of Monhegan, Maine, in 1905. It was on the island that Kent produced his first major works, mostly landscapes, over the span of five years.

After travelling through Alaska in the late 1910s Kent wrote and illustrated his first book, Wilderness: A Journal of a Quiet Adventure in Alaska in 1920. By 1922 he travelled to Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago in South America, which inspired his second illustrated book in 1924, Voyaging: Southward from the Strait of Magellan.

It was in the mid-twenties that Kent became enamored with woodcutting and lithography and began illustrating classic literature. By the end of 1928 he had settled permanently in the Adirondack Mountains in his personally named farm, Asgaard. On his farm Kent wrote and illustrated his third novel, North by East in 1930.

Kent had illustrated a total of twenty-three different works of literature including: Candide by Voltaire, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Beowulf (Scandinavian myth), and the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Between the years of 1929 and 1935 Kent travelled to Greenland, which inspired him to write a book about the country, Salamina, published in 1934. Greenland's extreme environment had influenced his artwork as did the environments of Alaska, Tierra del Fuego, and later, Ireland. Kent also wrote This Is My Own in 1940, It's Me, O Lord (autobiography) in 1955, Of Men and Mountains in 1959, and the Greenland Journal in 1962.

There are a number of murals that Rockwell Kent painted, designed, or both: Cape Cinema Murals, Dennis, Massachusetts; United States Post Office Department Headquarters, Washington D.C.; the 1939 World's Fair mural for the General Electric pavilion; "America at Peace," House Committee on Natural Resources, U.S. Capitol Complex, Washington D.C.

Kent was politically active beginning in the 1930s. A socialist, Kent was also open with his Communist leanings but insisted he was not a member of the Communist Party. The abject denial did not prevent his decline in popularity among American audiences during the 1940s and 1950s and the eventual revocation of his passport by the State Department. By the end of the 1950s he sued for the reinstatement of his passport and emerged victorious in a landmark Supreme Court case. The legal battle ultimately gained him much popularity with the Russian people which led to a trip to the U.S.S.R. in 1957 in which he exhibited his works to half a million Russians. Kent donated eighty paintings and eight hundred prints to the Russian people. In 1967 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.

Kent exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1904-1911, 1925-1926, 1932-1938; Corcoran Gallery, Washington, 1908-1939 (ten times); Exhibition of Independent Artists, 1910; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Society of Independent Artists, New York, 1917, 1936, and 1941.

Rockwell Kent's works can be found at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum; and the Corcoran Gallery, Washington.

Rockwell Kent died March 13, 1971, in Plattsburgh, New York.


Work Cited


Plattsburgh State Art Museum. Rockwell Kent Biography.  August 26, 2008. Web February 21, 2015.  <>


Aurora Art Publishers and Harry N. Abrams. Masters of World Painting: Rockwell Kent. Leningrad: Aurora Art Publishers. New York: Harry N. Abrams. 1976/1979. Print.


Falk, Peter Hastings. Who Was Who in American Art: 1564-1975, 400 Years of Artists in America. Madison: Sound View Press, 2001. Print, Reference.