1851 (Dublin, Ireland)
1928 (Brooklyn, New York)
New York / Ireland
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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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