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 John Rattenbury Skeaping  (1901 - 1980)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom/United States      Known for: painting, sculpture-racing, animals, architectural sculpture

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

John Rattenbury Skeaping, RA: British 1901-1980

The son of artist Kenneth Skeaping, John was born at South Woodford, Essex. His mother was an accomplished pianist. Skeaping was educated by his parents. He was fluent in English, French, Spanish and Italian and stated to draw when he was only three year old. By the age of seven he spending as much time as possible drawing and painting.

At thirteen Skeaping became a full-time student at Blackheath School of Art where he also studied sculpture. From there he went to Goldsmiths’ College, Central School of Art and to the Royal Academy Schools where in 1920 he won the Gold Medal and a travel scholarship which enabled him to study in Italy. On his return he taught for a time at Armstrong College, Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1924 he won the Prix de Rome and retuned to Italy to work in the British School at Rome.

In 1925 he married the sculptress Barbara Hepworth and in 1929 their son was born, (he was killed flying in 1952). John and Barbara separated in 1931. During World War II, John Skeaping was an Intelligence Officer with the SAS and served in North Africa and Europe. In 1949 he went to Mexico and was inspired to write ‘The Big Tree of Mexico’; another trip took him all over Ireland by bicycle.

Skeaping became ARA in 1951, RA in 1959, and Professor of Sculpture at RCA where he remained until a serious illness and operation force him to retie in 1959. He settled in the Camargue in France where he spent the rest of his life; he was a fine horseman and used to break horses and round up cattle in the Camargue.

Skeaping’s work was very individual and full of action; he felt that self expression was an artist’s strength and that is was a wrong approach to create art to try and please the public, although this was sometime essential. He believed the “dramatic emphasis can only be accomplished by exaggeration and/or elimination”.

He worked with great economy of line in a variety of mediums including oil, gouache, pastel and bronze. He subject matters included racing of all types; flat, fences and harness. He also painted the rounds ups on the Camargue, greyhound racing and a wide variety of wild animals.

Skeaping was one of the leading artists of the twentieth century, he also produced powerful bronzes and wood sculptures, sculpture being a major part of his work from 1920’s onward. These also included architectural sculptors and Church carvings.

Information courtesy of Jeanne Chisholm.

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