Kernoff’s family moves to Dublin when he is 14 years old where he ultimately becomes a leading figure in Irish modernism. He studies drawing and painting during night classes at the Metropolitan School of Art. In 1923, he wins the Taylor Scholarship and becomes a full-time art student. During his studies he meets and is encouraged by fellow artists Patrick Tuohy (1894-1930), Seán Keating (1889-1977), and Maurice MacGonigal (1900-79).
Influenced by Keating, he paints the Irish landscape, genre scenes, portraits, street and pub scenes, as well as Dublin landmarks with sympathy and understanding. This is particularly evident in his woodcuts. While living in his adopted Dublin Jewish community he produces picture illustrations of his local scenes for a neighbourhood writer and friend Nick Harris for his book entitled Dublin’s Little Jerusalem.
In 1930, Kernoff visits the Soviet Union as part of an Irish delegation from the friends of Soviet Russia led by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. While visiting, he is influenced by the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia. He is famously associated with Davy Byrne’s pub. His paintings and woodcuts of Davy Byrne’s pub are documents of his friendship with the original owner.
Kernoff spends the vast majority of his life unappreciated, and makes little or nothing from his paintings until a few years before his death, when he begins to be appreciated by contemporary critics. He never marries.
Outside his home in Dublin, where he lives with two unmarried sisters, there is a long-standing sign in the front garden which says “… Descendants of the Abravanels…” The Abravanel (or Abrabanel) family is one of the most famous Sephardic Jewish families in history, noted for their large quotas of Rabbis, scholars, and members of a variety of scientific and artistic fields, dating from about the 13th century in Lisbon. The emergence of the famous philosopher and scholar Don Isaac Abravanel in the middle of the 16th century brings his works to greater universal recognition.
Kernoff dies in Dublin on December 25, 1974.
(Pictured: Portrait of Harry Aaron Kernoff, Oil on Canvas by John F. Kelly)