FIG. 17 (above): Volume
4 of the Acanthus History
of Sculpture series, which
features the photos by
Kenett that appear in this
Carl A. Schmitz, Oceanic Sculpture,
New York Graphic Society, 1962.
FIG. 18 (right): “Clan
mask, Kararau, middle
region of the Sepik River,
Museum der Kulturen, Basel.
Frontispiece for Carl A. Schmitz,
Oceanic Sculpture, New York
Graphic Society, 1962.
ed into art book publishing and became the major
distributor for cultural organizations such as
the Met, MoMA, and the Museum of Primitive
Art. The sculpture series was conceived by the
English art historian Sir Herbert Read and the
aforementioned V&A curator H. D. Molesworth
as a four-volume project, each focusing on a narrowly
defi ned cultural area. Volume one, Ancient
Egypt: The New Kingdom and the Amarna Period,
continued the collaboration with Mme
Desroches-Noblecourt. Volume two focused on
the British Museum’s Elgin Marbles under the
title Classical Greece: The Elgin Marbles of the
Parthenon, with text by Nicholas Yalouris, and
volume three, Gothic Sculpture: The
Intimate Carvings was written by Max
Hermann von Freeden.
The fi nal volume, published in 1962,
was titled Oceanic Sculpture: Sculpture
of Melanesia and represents Kenett’s
only foray into this particular fi eld. The
text was written by noted anthropologist
Carl A. Schmitz, curator of the
Anthropological Museum (later the
Museum of Cultures) in Basel, and was
published in 1962, not long before his
unexpected death in 1966 at the age of
forty-six. The objects selected for the
book are primarily from Papua New
Guinea, including New Ireland and
New Britain. A few Solomon Islands
and New Caledonia artworks are featured
with one each from the Admiralty Islands
and Vanuatu. As per the book’s brief, Kenett and
Schmitz chose overtly sculptural objects with an
emphasis on the classic and the visually arresting.
Highlights include the fi gural Sepik drum from
the British Museum (FIG. 7), the Marovo Lagoon
canoe prow ornament from the Basel Museum
(FIG. 13), and the New Britain masks from Basel
(FIG. 3), Bremen (FIG. 11), and Hamburg (FIG. 12).
As can be imagined, the majority of the pieces are
from German museums and institutions. In this
author’s opinion, most of these renowned objects
have never been better illustrated and are uniquely
defi ned in the consciousness of informed connoisseurs
by these specifi c images.
All four volumes follow a standard format
whereby a short introductory text is followed by
32 black-and-white captioned plates, each measuring
11 1/2” x 14 1/2” (slightly smaller than
folio). Kenett shot everything on 5” x 4” fi lm or
glass plate and printed everything on 20” x 16”
white fi ne luster paper.5 The books are part of the
grand tradition of large-scale art printing that includes
the British Museum’s 1899 Antiquities of
Benin by Charles Hercules Read and the French
two-volume set Les Arts Sauvages Afrique and
Oceanie by André Portier and François Poncetton.
As in the manner of Friedrich Hewicker’s photographs
for Pantheon Books’ Oceanic Art,6 Kenett’s
imagery in each of these volumes is precise,
clear, and accurate, yet exciting. Objects are presented
on a neutral grey background, with consistent
foreground placement. They are
subtly dramatically lit, the light falling
mainly left to right, but with strong side
lighting. The trick in Kenett’s photos is
that he manages to create the impression
that each sculpture is lit naturally,
as if gentle sunlight falls through a window.
He was also among the fi rst photographers
to really “fl oat” a sculpture
on the page and to create the impression
that the artwork is somehow suspended
in time and space. He was noted at the
time, “for his extraordinarily beautiful
and revealing camerawork, and is the
only photographer specialising in sculpture
that combines such technical skill
with both a learned and intuitive understanding
of this vast subject.”7
It may be said that the tradition of commercially
produced, large-scale folio-style books effectively
ended with the Acanthus series, and it
seems fi tting that Kenett concluded his photography
career with this monument to the genre.
1. T. G. Rosenthal, review, The Listener, London, 3 March 1966.
2. Eric Newton, review, The Times, London, 1953.
3. Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, Tutankhamen: Life and
Death of a Pharaoh, NYGS, New York, 1963.
4. Read and Molesworth (eds.), “The Acanthus History of
Sculpture,” Oldbourne Press, London, and the NYGS, New York,
four volumes, 1960–1962. Subsequent editions were relaseed by
various publishers in a number of languages.
5. London Photographic Association, “Photographer and Sculptor
Frederick Leslie Kenett, F.I.B.P., 1924–2012,” 14 October 2012,
photographer-sculptor-frederick-leslie.html (accessed 5 July
6. Herbert Tischner, Oceanic Art, Pantheon Books, NY, 1954.
7. London Photographic Association, op cit.