For those persons of a certain vintage who have been interested in matters maritime for some time, the name of Kenneth Denton Shoesmith will no doubt be familiar.
Kenneth was born in Halifax in Yorkshire and grew up in Blackpool. The young Shoesmith was drawing ships from a young age. Despite showing early artistic talent he decided on a career at sea and joined the training ship HMS Conway.
After Conway he joined the Royal Mail Line but continued drawing and painting. During his early career as a ship’s officer, he continued to paint the ships on which he served as well as those he observed around him. Ultimately, his duties as Chief Officer left him with little time for his passion for painting, so he resigned in 1918 and became a full-time freelance painter for the rest of his life, which unfortunately ended prematurely with his death in 1939 aged 48 years.
Prior to more modern times, roughly from before the First World War until after the Second World War, Shipping companies keen to promote their product had limited opportunities compared to today. While TV commercials and social networking sites were not in the immediate offing, shipping companies employed decorative artists who produced artwork which was included in advertisements. They appeared in popular magazines and also did 48 Sheet posters displayed at Railway Stations and the Underground. Colourful brochures and postcards were also part of the graphic art issued by the major cruise lines of the day. Many of the artists became household names. Artists Charles Pears, Frank Brangwyn and Frank Mason were in the forefront in earlier days, thereafter other leading artists included W L Wyllie, Charles Dixon, Walter Thomas...and of course Kenneth Shoesmith. This article includes but a few examples of his memorable output.
An obituarist wrote: ‘As a poster artist - he was quite definitely in the front rank of those who are content to paint what they see and know. He was direct in his methods, sound in his drawing and brilliant in his colour. His ships were not only correct in detail, but they were always in and not on the water, for he painted with a seaman’s knowledge as well as an artist’s perception.’ A few distinctive examples of Kenneth Shoesmith’s talent are shown here.