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 Aloysius C. O'Kelly  (1851 - 1928)

About: Aloysius C. O'Kelly
 

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: landscape, harbors, genre, narrative

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BIOGRAPHY for Aloysius O'Kelly
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Birth
1851 (Dublin, Ireland)
 
Death
1928

Lived/Active
New York

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landscape, harbors, genre, narrative

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Dublin, studying in Paris, painting in Brittany and traveling widely, exhibiting regularly in Dublin and London, Aloysius O'Kelly was virtually forgotten in Ireland until recently, because he emigrated to America.  He was born in Dublin in 1851.  In about 1875, he went to Paris and became a student of Leon Bonnat and Jean Leon Gerome at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.  O'Kelly was one of the first Irish artists in Brittany, exhibiting Breton scenes in Dublin and in London in the late 1870's, and again in the mid 1880's.

O'Kelly's painting varies in subject and style which makes it  difficult to establish a chronology or identify him with a particular style.  His styles include 1880's Realism, plein-air scenes in the 'square- brush' style, and Pre-Raphaelite subjects and harbor scenes in light Impressionism.  He also did heavy-seeming works with black shadows (a la Verlat), or Academic Egyptian subjects with precise draftsmanship a la Gerome.  Some of his paintings appear deft and sensitive while others are awkward or heavy handed.

In the early 1880s, O'Kelly was living in a comfortable cottage on the banks of Lough Fee in Connemara, with the well-paid position of Special Artist to the Illustrated London News.  He visited County Galway, staying at Salruck near Killary harbor, one of the most remote parts of the west, where he completed a series of historical and genre paintings including Peasants Praying in a Cottage.  These were widely exhibited and discussed in a Ireland where religious and political feelings were running high since his brother James J. O’Kelly was a notorious Fenian activist.  A major work by Aloysius O’Kelly of that title disappeared.

Less controversial, the surviving Gathering Wrack (Seaweed) is a piece of contemporary realism referencing the west of Ireland (years before Paul Henry or Jack B. Yeats).   In this painting, O'Kelly depicted in detail the traditional head wear of the figures, their homespun clothing and bare feet, and the donkey with its wickerwork basket. The flat sand on which the figures stand leads towards an enticing blue sea.

In keeping with the prevalent vogue for Orientalism, O'Kelly also traveled to Egypt in the mid-1880's, painting in and around Cairo. Scenes of bazaars, mosques, streets and deserts were reflected in his paintings for the next few years.  There is assurance in the variety of poses among the figures and the use of recession from modeled and richly highlighted figures in the foreground, to the shadowy, transparent background.  Particularly attractive are the colors of the clothes, set off by rich whites, and the delicatepatterning of the carpets.

In the late 1880s, O'Kelly joined the many artists of various nationalities experimenting with the new Impressionist style in Brittany, painting girls in interiors and sunny harbour scenes.  Awaiting the Return, Concarneau, 1889, representing two girls on the bridge to the old walled town, shows an embracing of Impressionism in its relaxed brushwork, and bright cheerful colors.  The inspiration of this period drew him back on later painting trips, though he had soon settled in Brooklyn, New York and remained based there until his death in 1928.

In the United States, he painted mostly on the East Coast, from Maine to New Jersey.

Exhibitions in his lifetime included Royal Academy 1876 through 1891, Paris Salons, National Academy of Design 1879, Boston Art Club 1907, Corcoran Gallery Annual 1907, and Pennsylvania Academy 1909-1910.  References are found in Peter Falk's Who Was Who in American Art, Davenport, Fielding's, Benezit, and Irish Impressionists.

In recent times O'Kelly's recognition has been reestablished, with such highly popular traveling exhibitions as the 1999 Irish Painters in Brittany, 1880-1930 curated by Dr. Julian Campbell and sponsored by the Museum of Pont-Avon, France.   The exhibition was shown at the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery in Ireland.  A solo retrospective of his work followed at the Hugh Lane Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin in 1999-2000.  The curator of the latter show was Niamh O'Sullivan, lecturer at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin.  She is writing a biography of the artist.


Submitted by Cornelia C. Moynihan, art professional.  A primary source is Niamh O’Sullivan, author of a biography of the artist.



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