Harry Aaron Kernoff, Irish artist in oils and woodcuts, dies in Dublin on December 25, 1974. Of London/Russian extraction, he is primarily remembered for his sympathetic interest in Dublin and its people. He depicts street and pub scenes, as well as Dublin landmarks with sympathy and understanding. This is particularly evident in his woodcuts.
Born in London on January 10, 1900 to a Russian Jewish father and Spanish mother, Kernoff moves to Dublin in 1914 and becomes a leading figure in Irish modernism. While working as an apprentice in his father’s furniture business, which leads to his woodcuts, he takes night classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. There, in 1923, he wins the Taylor scholarship and goes on to exhibit at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) every year from 1926. He is elected RHA in 1936.
Influenced by Seán Keating, he paints the Irish landscape, genre scenes, and portraits. His work is part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. In 1930, he 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.
Kernoff 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. 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 called Dublin’s Little Jerusalem.
Outside Kernoff’s 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 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.