Robert Kiddey - Artist & Sculptor of Note

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Robert Kiddey - Artist & Sculptor of Note' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Robert Kiddey - Artist & Sculptor of Note' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Robert Kiddey - Artist & Sculptor of Note' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Robert Kiddey - Artist & Sculptor of Note' page

By Nalhs Newark

Robert Kiddey was a well-known local figure in Newark.  He was born at Nottingham in 1900 and died at Newark in 1984. His gift for drawing made itself apparent at an early age and at 14 he was enrolled at the Nottingham School of Art on Waverley Street.

 

Unfortunately his studies were almost immediately interrupted by the First World War, in the latter stages of which he joined up as a private in the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment of Foot.

 

On demobilisation Kiddey returned to Nottingham and in the Twenties assisted in carving the frieze of figures around the top of Nottingham's new council house in the Market Square. His first big solo success came in 1929 when one of his works - a carved panel called: ‘The Divine Tragedy’ (a study of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ) - was accepted for the Royal Academy's annual exhibition in London.

 

At the time, Kiddey's style and technique were highly praised and three years later ‘The Divine Tragedy’ launched him into the European art market when it was shown at the Salon des Beaux Arts in Paris.

 

Things looked all set for a successful future, and in 1931 Kiddey moved to Newark to take up a teaching post at the newly opened Newark Technical College. He was to remain on the staff of the art department for nearly 50 years. He continued to sculpt in his spare time and to broaden his artistic horizons and began to travel widely.

 

During college vacations he visited France, Germany, Italy and, perhaps most importantly, the newly communistic USSR. In Yugoslavia he was introduced to the famous sculptor Mestrovic and many of Kiddey's subsequent works show his influence.

 

The inter-war years were a period of great progress for Kiddey and his reputation grew. Further pieces were accepted by the Royal Academy, and at the Goupil Gallery (also in London) examples of his work were shown alongside pieces by Augustus John, Eric Gill and Picasso.

 

With the outbreak of war in 1939, however, all possibility of exposure abroad was blocked. The war destroyed the momentum of Kiddey's career, and he was never able to regain the international recognition he had begun to command in the Thirties.  

In subsequent years even national success began to elude him, although working alone in his studio in Newark, Kiddey continued to produce an almost unbroken stream of imaginative and innovative pieces. Using a wide range of media including paint, charcoal, wood and stone, he began to explore many diverse themes from religion to sport. His pieces often showed a strong influence of Egyptian art combined with an intense interest in texture and pattern. Abstract conceptions, particularly in painting and three-dimensional sculpture, became the areas that most pre-occupied him towards the end of his life.  

Kiddey was a popular man, despite being a private individual.  He was a local character who always wore a bow tie and a pork-pie hat, even when sculpting!  Many of his works are exhibited in Newark Town Hall Museum & Art Gallery.  His work may also be seen at Newark Rowing Club and the Newark College.

 

Robert Kiddey died in Hawtonville Hospital, Newark, in June 1984 when arrangements were already under way for a major retrospective of his work at the Newark Technical College. The exhibition went ahead as planned and served as a fitting tribute to this most respected teacher, artist and resident of the town - a man, it was once said, who had a touch of genius. 

Our Society erected this plaque on his last studio and home in King Street in 2005.

Jill Campbell NALHS - Dec. 2012

This page was added by Jill Campbell, Nalhs Newark on 27/12/2012.

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