Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gerald Festus Kelly, Traditional Portrait Artist

The photo above is of Sir Gerald Festus Kelly (1879-1972) painting Edith Teresa Hulton, wife of the 8th Lord Berwick, with the (circa 1923) finished painting shown below it. As you might see, Kelly was a skilled realist and, as his Wikipedia (entry) indicates, had a successful career. Unlike most artists of his time, he had a strong, elite, formal education, attending Eton and Cambridge before heading to Paris to study art.

Despite his social connections, skills and success, Kelly seems little known today. After I finished scooping up examples of his work for this post, I noticed that the earliest one was painted when he was about 40. No doubt earlier works can be located, but it makes me wonder what he was doing artistically before 1919; Wikipedia offers no clue.

Kelly's career overlapped and then extended beyond those of Philip de Laszlo (1869-1937), John Lavery (1856-1941), and William Orpen (1878-1931) who stepped into the British portrait scene after John Singer Sargent phased out that aspect of his career. This placed him at a time when Modernism was rapidly gaining ascendancy in the intellectual class, and traditionalist painters such as Kelly were dismissed as dull-witted copyists of nature. Snap conclusion: born at a fairly good time to have a decent commercial career but a bad time in terms of artistic reputation-building.

Examples of Kelly's work are shown below. Not shown are some not-safe-for-work nudes. To view those, you'll have to Google on his name and switch into "Images."


Jane (his wife, Lilian Ryan) - 1919
An unfinished portrait. There's another one farther down as further fodder for readers interested in technique.

Lady in Blue ("Jane")

Consuelo (VII) - 1919
The Roman numeral indicates that this was one of a series of paintings.

Countess of Lisburne - 1926

Sah Ohn Nyun (V) - 1932
Again, one of a series.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother - 1938
Wikipedia indicates that Kelly was a favorite of the Royals. This painting of Queen Elizabeth was made shortly after her husband, George VI, became King.

Ralph Vaughan Williams - 1958-61
The composer in his later years; Kelly also painted him earlier.

Montague Rhodes James - c.1936
I include this to show how Kelly worked up at least some of his portraits. Like the "Jane" above, he was of the do-the-face-first school rather than following the practice of continually working over the entire canvas surface to retain "balance."


dearieme said...

I used to know a nephew of Rhodes James. Alas, he'd smell of brandy before ten in the morning.

David Apatoff said...

Very nice work. Wasn't Kelly the painter who scandalized his entire community with a nude sitting in a very non-demure position? As I recall, he placed it in the window of a gallery for the world to see.

In a similar vein, did he chicken out on that topless painting of his wife?

Donald Pittenger said...

David -- I don't know about the wife situation or for that matter much about Kelly other than the usual bio snippets on the web. (I see that shows a 1975 biography that might contain the scoop.)

As for the nude, all you have to do is Google on Kelly and then go to Images, and it'll be right near the top. The model looks pretty young -- almost young enough to be a daughter. But I have no info as to who she might be, so won't speculate beyond that.

Mike said...

Wow. Exceptional work. The portrait of Edith Hulton is spectacular.

charles Krafft said...

I'm curious about James Raeburn Middleton who also traveled to Burma and was a Brirish portrait painter although a Scots. Do you have any bigraphical info or a photo of Middleton?

Donald Pittenger said...

Charles -- The best I can do at present is do a Google search. In the first couple of screens I found nothing much regarding biographical information. Clicking on Images didn't seem to reveal any photos of him near the top of the scroll. I would like to think that what you're after is someplace, but the man's reputation apparently isn't strong enough yet to be picked up by search machines.