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 Gerald Festus Kelly  (1879 - 1972)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom/England/Ireland      Known for: academic portrait painting

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from Auction House Records.
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Gerald Festus Kelly RHA, PRA (1879-1972)

The academic* style portrait artist and oil painter Gerald Kelly enjoyed a long association with the Royal Hibernian Academy* (RHA) being elected a full member and exhibiting for over sixty years (1905-1969).

He was born in London, educated at Cambridge University and studied drawing and painting in Paris, in the academic style of art.  The painter Whistler was an early influence. Kelly himself was an avid traveller, visiting America, South Africa, Spain, and Burma, where he executed some of his most characteristic figure drawings.

Kelly gained a reputation as a technically accomplished exponent of academic portrait art, specializing in children and women.  Among his many portrait subjects were Somerset Maugham, whose portrait he painted several times.  In addition, Kelly completed numerous formal state portraits.

In 1930, in England he was elected a member of the Royal Academy* (RA).  He also became a member of the Fine Arts Commission (1938-43), being knighted in 1945.

During the period 1909-1970 Gerald Kelly exhibited over 300 works at the Royal Academy, becoming President from 1949 to 1954.  The painter John Napper worked as his assistant.
Kelly's art reached a wide audience during his lifetime through a series of prints of his paintings.

Online Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Christie's London, South Kensington:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

While in Paris in 1905, Gerald Kelly fell in love with a young dancer, with whom he lived in Montmartre.  When she left him in 1908, Kelly was devastated, and at the suggestion of his friend Somerset Maugham he decided to travel to Burma inspired by some photographs he had admired of Burmese dancers.  Maugham gave him £50 to finance the expedition, and in late summer 1908 Kelly set sail.

On the boat over he met an Old Etonian who was being posted to Mandalay as District Judge, and with whom Kelly stayed for the majority of his trip.  From November 1908 to April 1909 Kelly remained in Burma, industriously painting a large number of landscapes and studies of Burmese dancers.  He loved Mandalay and wrote ‘Try and imagine how beautiful it was.  A square mile surrounded by high, cosy brick walls and sunrise and sunset all over it.  And how sweet the women and children were…

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