Harry Kernoff
Irish Genre Painter, Dublin Cityscapes. Biography, Paintings.

Harry Aaron Kernoff RHA (1900-1974)

The portrait, landscape and decorative painter Harry Kernoff was born in London to a Russian father and Spanish mother, but relocated to Dublin when he was 14. Kernoff studied drawing and painting during night classes at the Metropolitan School of Art. In 1923, he won the Taylor Scholarship and became a full-time art student. During his studies he met and was encouraged by fellow artists Patrick Tuohy (1894-1930), Sean Keating (1889-1977), and Maurice MacGonigal (1900-79). Today, he is celebrated as one of the best Irish genre painters and an important chronicler of the city of Dublin.

Harry Kernoff was to remain in Dublin for the rest of his life. Noted above all for his genre-painting, he was one of few artists to paint the city and its people, which he did with great empathy. In addition, he painted the Irish landscape as well as numerous portraits. He was also a master of illustration, exhibiting several examples at the 1925 Arts and Crafts Exhibition.



In 1926 he began showing at the Royal Hibernian Academy, averaging about five paintings in each exhibition from then until 1974 - an extraordinary achievement. The only RHA exhibition he missed during this time was the 1930/31 show due to his absence in the then Soviet Union as part of the "Irish Friends of Soviet Russia" delegation. On his return, in 1931, he resumed exhibiting every year until his death in 1974.

Portrait art was another of his specialities, and he completed many portraits in a single sitting. Among his many subjects were: WB Yeats, James Joyce, James Connolly, Sean O'Casey, Liam O'Flaherty, Brendan Behan, Jerome Connor and Maurice MacGonigal.


In 1935 he was elected an associate member and then full member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). In the late 1930s he exhibited in the Victor Waddington Galleries, Dublin, and at Mills' Hall. During the next few decades he continued to exhibit a wide range of artworks, including woodcuts, as well as oils and watercolours.

He died in Dublin on Christmas Day 1974. Earlier that year, the Godolphin Gallery hosted an exhibition of 46 works by Kernoff, , including his most famous painting - "A Bird Never Flew on One Wing". At the exhibition, fellow-painter John Ryan spoke of the debt Dublin owed to Kernoff, for his "depiction of its lanes and highways and its citizens, famous and notorious ... in all their plumage... he is our Boswell in paint." This was followed in 1976 by a memorial show at the Hugh Lane Gallery of Art.


Harry Kernoff's artworks are held in numerous collections of Irish art, including: Public Library, Athlone; Irish Embassy, Beijing; Ulster Museum, Belfast; Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork; Aras an Uachtarain; Dublin Writers Museum; Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art; the Irish Jewish Museum; National Gallery of Ireland; Office of Public Works; City Gallery of Art, Limerick; National Self-Portrait Collection, Limerick University; and others.

Most Expensive Work by Harry Kernoff

The auction record for a work by Harry Kernoff was set in 2008, when his oil painting, entitled A Bird Never Flew On One Wing, was sold at James Adams, in Dublin, for €180,000.

If you are interested in the life and art of Harry Kernoff, we strongly recommend Kevin O'Connor's new book "Harry Kernoff - the Little Genius" (2012), published by Liffey Press, Dublin.

More Information About Visual Arts in Ireland

• For details of other Dublin painters and sculptors, see: Irish Artists: Paintings and Biographies.
• For more about cityscape and genre-painters like Harry Kernoff, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For more about genre-painting, see: Homepage.

History of Irish Art
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