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 Leon Kelly  (1901 - 1982)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/New Jersey / France      Known for: surreal figure-genre and non ob easel painting, mural

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Ad Code: 2
Leon Kelly
from Auction House Records.
Still Life
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Leon Kelly, born in 1901, studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Awarded a traveling scholarship from that institution in 1924, he studied in Paris, France at the Grande Chaumiere. Other teachers included Arthur B. Carles, Jean Auguste Adolphe, Earl Horter and Alexandre Portinoff.

Essentially a Surrealist painter, Kelly did wide-ranging work that went from painterly to meticulous Surrealism, Cezanne-inspired watercolors, and Cubist painting. In the 1940s, Julian Levy, the Surrealist dealer, handled Kelly's work in New York City.

Kelly also exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art Annuals (1933-34, 1939-46, 1966); Corcoran Gallery Biennials, Washington, D.C. (three times from 1935-47); Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; had a 1965 retrospective exhibition at the International Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland; Long Beach, New Jersey (1968); Richard Feigen Gallery, Chicago, Illinois (1968, 1970); Newark Museum, New Jersey (1969); and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Kelly's paintings are in the collections of three New York city museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; and Museum of Modern Art; as well as Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California; Sara Roby Foundation Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska; Newark Museum, New Jersey; and the Tel Aviv Museum, Israel.

Leon Kelly died in 1982.


Biography from Schwarz Gallery:
Leon Kelly was born in Perpignan in the French Pyrenees and brought to Philadelphia as an infant.  He entered the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) in 1924.  Afterwards he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where his most influential instructors were Earl Horter (1881-1940) and Arthur B. Carles (1882-1952).  Their familiarity with French Fauvism and Cubism, as well as Horter's own collection of avant-garde European art, exerted a considerable impact on Kelly.  One art historian has opined that his paintings of the early 1920s "were among the most sophisticated versions of analytical Cubism to be produced in Philadelphia."

Kelly won the Pennsylvania Academy's Cresson Traveling Fellowship in 1924 and went to Europe for six years, living in Paris and traveling throughout the continent and North Africa.  Kelly's interest in Cubism gradually subsided after he saw the Louvre's collection of old master paintings.  His first solo show was held at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 1925, followed by an exhibition at the Galerie du Printemps in Paris in 1926.  Kelly was included at the Art Institute of Chicago's "Century of Progress" exhibition in 1933, as well as in the annuals of the Whitney Museum in New York, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, and at the Pennsylvania Academy during the 1930s and '40s. 

Kelly began to experiment with Surrealism around 1940.  In 1965, his work was included in both a large survey of Surrealism at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a retrospective at the International Gallery in Baltimore.  Kelly taught at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1966 to 1969, and died in 1982.

Notes: 1. Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art [exh. cat.] (Philadelphia, Pa.: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), p. 572. 
See also Leon Kelly, American Surrealist [exh. cat.] (New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 1999).

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