Bryan Kneale was born and grew up on the Isle of Man. He moved to London in 1948 to study at the Royal Academy Schools. In the following year he won the Rome Prize in painting and went to Italy where he stayed until 1951. Three years later he began exhibiting.
Kneale originally studied drawing, but took up sculpture in 1958 and has worked extensively in both media since. He also has a distinguished academic career, having been Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art as well as Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1970 and his work is to be found in collections all over the world.
While at the Royal College of Art, which is near to the Natural History Museum, Kneale was encouraged by the Keeper of Zoology to work on specimens in the Museum. This example is one of the so-called 'bone drawings' that resulted from the association.
The life size picture of a giant tortoise (Geochelone) skeleton expertly displays the specimen's main features. Using chalk Kneale's free, yet sharp, treatment of line brings out the structure of the specimen precisely. At the same time Kneale conveys a feeling of life, or at least, sensation of how in life the tortoise would have moved. Furthermore, the technique of strong line with subtle shading invests an anthropomorphic character in the countenance of this reptile.
The drawing expertly conveys the massive nature of this tortoise, but the style and medium chosen with which to execute the artwork underlines the fragility of this gentle giant.
Giant tortoises (Geochelone) are today endangered due to the activities of man and introduction of predators to the tortoises' environment. In all of the areas where giant tortoises are still found, conservation activities are seeking to reverse the decline in populations that the last century has seen.
Other 'bone drawings' by Kneale in this series include the skull of a tiger and skeleton of a cat.
1991 Bryan Kneale Drawing Retrospective, Natural History Museum, London.
1998 Images from Nature, Christie's, London.
Natural History Museum (London) (1998) Images from Nature : Drawings and Paintings from the Library of The Natural History Museum. The Natural History Museum: London. 111pp.