The artist: Rose Dempster Bonnor, a renowned Welsh portrait artist, was born in 1874. Her great, great grandfather was the 18th century engraver Thomas Bonnor while her brother, John Bonnor with whom she shared a studio, was an acclaimed sculptor, jewellery and stained glass artist. Rose studied as a prize-winning artist at Clapham School of Art and Camberwell School of Art. Her first portrait was accepted at the Royal Academy in 1894 when she was aged just 19 years old. Between 1894 and 1916 she exhibited thirteen paintings at the Royal Academy, eight at the Walker Gallery Liverpool and one each at the Manchester City Art Gallery and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. Her portraits of Lord Kenyon, Lord-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V, attracted particular attention. The following is an extract from ‘Women’s Work At The Royal Academy’ 20 May 1916:
“Miss Rose D. Bonnor’s stately full-length portrait of Colonel the Right Honourable Lord Kenyon, K.C.V.O., is a very solid and accomplished bit of work; it is simple and traditional in its conception and relies more upon the academic and harmonious completeness than upon any quality of adventitious composition or ‘tour de force’ effect. The finely drawn and stately presentation is distinctly of the ancestral type of family portrait, fitted to take its place side by side with the painters of the past, unostentatiously secure in its essential truth and tranquil taste. The rich, warm gloom of the panelled background relieves the khaki and brown leather and the open-air flesh with a harmony approaching monotone, and it is only when one stays to read the quiet individuality of the expression, and to note the admirable volume and balance of the tall figure, that one realises how strong, sure and masterly grasp of the artist.”
Altogether Rose produced more than 80 major portraits, many of well-known public figures. Her style was influenced by Rembrandt with shafts of light in dark interiors. She painted the portrait of her brother John in an identical pose to the self-portrait of Edvard Munch. Sadly, the tragic death of John Bonnor in 1917 at the age of 40 while he was sculpting St. George & the Dragon on the Parliament buildings in Ottawa had a devastating effect on her. Her output diminished and her career ended in her 50s when she suffered severely impaired eyesight as a result of a skating accident. Rose Bonnor died in Apr 1967 in Ealing, Greater London. A retrospective exhibition of her work was displayed at Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham from 1 Apr 2014, curated by Richmond Council’s Mark De Novellis and Rose’s great niece, Annabel Bonnor Bloxham.
The sitter, Lloyd Tyrell-Kenyon 4th Baron Kenyon, KC.V.O., T.D., was born on 5 July 1864 in Wilmore Crescent, West London, the son of the Hon. Lloyd Kenyon. Educated at Eton College and Christ Church College,Oxford, Lord Kenyon took his seat in the House of Lords on his 21st birthday in 1885. In December 1900 he was appointed a Lord-in-waiting to Queen Victoria (Government whip in the House of Lords) in the Conservative Government of Lord Salisbury, a post he retained until 1905; the last three years under the leadership of Arthur Balfour. He would go on to serve this same post again, in the coalition Government of David Lloyd George from 1916 to 1918. Politically, he was also a member of Flintshire County Council, a D.L. and J.P. for the county of Shropshire and J.P. for Flintshire county.
Lord Kenyon's military career was an illustrious one, first serving in the Shropshire Yeomanry, promoted Lieutenant in 1886, Captain in 1889 and Major on 14 December 1901, finally Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the regiment from 1907 to 1912. Awarded the Territorial Decoration in 1909, Lord Kenyon was then promoted full Colonel and made A.D.C. to King George V in 1912. During WWI he served as commanding officer of the 2/1st Welsh Horse Yeomanry from 1914 to 1916 before serving Loyd George's government. In civil life, Lord Kenyon served as Lord Lieutenant of Denbighshire from 1918 to his death. He was Pro-Chancellor of the University of Wales from 1910 and President of the North Wales University College, and as President of the National Museum of Wales from 1923. Lord Kenyon was made K.C.V.O. in 1907 and was a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and also a Grand Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog of Denmark and the Order of the Crown of Italy. He married Gwladys Julia Howard, daughter of Colonel Henry Richard Lloyd Howard, in 1916. He died at his home, Gredington Hall, Flintshire, of typhoid contracted from a mosquito bite, in November 1927, aged 63. He was buried at the parish church of St Chad's, Hanmer. He was succeeded in his titles by his only son Lloyd. Lady Kenyon died in 1965.