Skip to main content

John Rattenbury Skeaping R.A.

John Rattenbury Skeaping R.A
9 June 1901 – 5 March 1980. British.
Active: 1914 – 1979

Sculptor, carver, modeller

Born South Woodford, Essex. He was the son of Kenneth Mathieson Skeaping (1857-1946) a lithographic artist, illustrator and painter and his grandfather was Joseph Nairn Skeaping (1829-1902) a master wood carver from Liverpool. Several of his aunts and uncles were also artistic, John Skeaping (1859-1940) was an art master and then head master of the art school in St. Helens. He was married to Emily Jane, who was also an artist and the author of several ‘How To’ books on handicrafts. Elizabeth Jane Skeaping Kaufman (born c.1872) was a painter and art teacher and Nellie Skeaping (born c.1879) was a talented pianist.

John Rattenbury was educated at home until he began his art studies when he was thirteen. In 1914 he studied sculpture at Blackheath School of Art, London, then from 1915 to 1917 attended the school of art at Goldsmiths’ College, followed by the Central School of Arts and Crafts 1917–19, and the Royal Academy Schools 1919–20. In 1920 he won the Royal Academy gold medal and travelling scholarship, which enabled him to visit Rome, Siena – Italy, and Florence. Four years later he won the British School at Rome scholarship in sculpture. During his study in Rome he married Barbara Hepworth on 13 May 1925 in Florence, they were separated in 1931 and divorced in 1934.

Skeaping taught sculpture at the Central School of Arts and Crafts from 1931-40, then at the Royal College of Art from 1948, and was Professor of Sculpture between 1953-59. He published a number of educational books, ‘Animal Drawing’, 1936; ‘How to Draw Horses’, 1941; ‘How to Draw Dogs’, 1961 as well as other writings ‘The Big Tree of Mexico’ 1952, and his autobiography, ‘Drawn from Life’, 1977.

During the 1930s and 1940s Skeaping made stone carvings and modelled figures and animals, in the 1960s and 1970s he specialised in equine portraits. His first solo exhibition was held at Alex Reid and Lefevre Gallery, Glasgow in 1928 which was followed by many other shows including regular showing at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1922; Sculpture in the Home, Arts Council 1946; LCC 1948, 51, 57, 60. During the Second World War he served in the intelligence corps as an official war artist and spent a short spell with the SAS. He travelled in Mexico in 1949-50 and left Britain in 1959 to live in the Camargue. Skeaping was elected an A.R.A. in 1950, R.A. in 1959 and Senior RA in 1977.

Collections include: Tate Gallery; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; British Museum, London; Windsor Castle Royal Collection; Bradford City Art Gallery.

Citing this record

Reference & Credits to: ‘John Rattenbury Skeaping RA’, Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 [, accessed 20 Dec 2021]