Pistil-Packing Cecil Kennedy Is Britain's Pet Petal Pusher

updated 10/27/1986 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/27/1986 01:00AM

Almost every day for the last 65 years Cecil Kennedy, 81, has stopped to smell the flowers, but that's not all. He's also set up an easel and painted them, and when the British artist paints a flower, you see a flower—one at the peak of perfumed pickability. His is a clinically realistic style in the 17th-century Dutch tradition, and you won't find his posies in trendy galleries but in refined, antique-filled living rooms. Henry Wyndham of Christie's says, "He is the leader in his field. No one does similar stuff of the same quality."

With savory titles like Summer Abundance and Rhododendrum Fragrantissimo, Kennedy's oils cost $8,000 to $28,000. "I used to do portraits, nudes and landscapes, but since the early '30s it has been mostly flowers," the painter says. It all began when he painted a woman with roses in her lap. A dealer was impressed—not by the lady but by her bouquet—and suggested Kennedy do more. He was ready. "All that tarting around," he says of portraiture. "There was always worry that you might not get a commission."

In 1929 Queen Mary, Elizabeth's grandmother, bought a painting with a ladybug in it and made Kennedy promise to put one in from then on for good luck. He has loyally obliged ever since. Another royal customer, the Duke of Windsor, bought some red roses, but the canvas has disappeared. "He gave it to someone," says Kennedy, lowering his voice discreetly to add: "He had a lot of girlfriends, you know. Nice chap." But you won't find Kennedys on Princess Di's or Fergie's walls. "Royal patronage is damn good, but I don't think they buy flower paintings anymore," the artist says.

Kennedy, who works in his house north of London (his wife of 54 years, Winifred, buys the flowers), sniffs at the idea that he may be in a rut. He explains, "You never achieve the sheer beauty that nature has, but you are always hoping to achieve your golden glory." Then, displaying the tenacity that built the Empire, he adds: "I hope to God that one day I will paint it."

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