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Aloysius O'Kelly 1853 - 1936

Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

An Interior, Brittany

Oil on canvas, 20 x 17 inches. Signed by the artist
Inscribed verso: Aloysius O’Kelly / AM. / Dublin 1853 / New York 1935

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, December 2006
 

This work is amongst the first of a series of Breton paintings produced by O’Kelly over a period of fifty years. The style and ambitious complexity of the composition suggests a date of 1876, just two years after his arrival in Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. It was the practice of the students to spend the summer months painting in the art colonies outside Paris. Many students made the long journey to Brittany where living expenses were more affordable than elsewhere. It also offered picturesque villages, attractive fishing ports, splendid local costume and a dramatic, rugged coastline. O’Kelly shared lodgings with Thomas Hovenden at the Hotel Gloanec. They had arrived in Paris at about the same time. Hovenden, thirteen years his elder, was more advanced as a painter and O’Kelly appears to have been influenced by him, a factor apparent in the present painting.

The scene is set is a small interior described by O’Kelly in detail. In the corner is a box bed, the doors of which are decorated with wheels and spindles of the type found in Pont-Aven and appears to be identical to the one illustrated by Helen Mabel Trevor's version of a Breton interior. The woodwork of the crockery rack is similar. On top of this sits a coloured glazed bowl, similar to the one that sits on the shelf above the fireplace. Here we also find a green oil lamp, a brown earthenware pot and a large pan. A fire thong hangs from the front of the shelf.

O’Kelly set himself an intricate challenge in combining three groups of figures in the confined space of this small room. Three men engaged in conversation sit around a table. One man tilts his head back to drink. Another has his back to us and sits beside a travelling sack on which rests a walking stick. Perhaps he has arrived with the man in a similar coloured costume who stands with his back to the fireplace. Perhaps they are friends or relatives visiting from another village.

The young man has just returned from hunting carrying a rifle and satchel. He presents his quarry to the woman, who is about to prepare a potage. On the floor is a branch with leaves and berries, perhaps for use as flavouring. In the dark recesses of the fire place we can see the faint outline of the cooking rack. To the left of this we find a fire stand and a bellows. O’Kelly uses the black of the fireplace to highlight the woman’s headdress.
 

 Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Head of a Breton, Finistère

Oil on canvas 24 x 20 inches. Signed by the artist

Exhibited: Royal Hibernian Academy, 1885, number 49;
Irish Artisans Exhibition, 1885 as Un Breton de Finistère;;
Royal Academy, London, 1886, number 17 as A Vendean of Finistère, Brittany;
Irish Exhibition in London, 1888 as Head of a Vendean of Finistère;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 1999;
'Re-orientations', Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin, Nov. 1999, number 10;
‘Peintres Irlandais en Bretagne’ Musée de Pont-Aven, France, 1999;
Irish Artists in Brittany, Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork 2001

Head of a Breton is another early painting although it was not exhibited until 1885 when it first appeared in Dublin at the R.H.A. The painting received a good deal of attention at the time and was reviewed in the 'Royal Hibernian Academy Art Supplement' as follows: "The best work the artist has sent into the exhibition. It is a truthful and careful study, with however, a slight indication on the part of the painter of too much blackening of the shadows, a tendency we have noticed in most of our students who have gone abroad, but which we have no doubt Mr. O'Kelly will in time correct, as others have done. The hardness of outline, so apparent in his other pictures, especially in Nos. 68 and 201, is comparatively absent in this."

There are four labels pasted to the stretcher bars. The first label, Head of a Breton of Finistère gives some important details, especially the address, given as 65 Bessborough Street, St. George's Square, London. This is the address of his brother, James. It identifies the painting as the RHA exhibit of 1885. It is also the same address used by Aloysius for his Paris Salon submission of 1884. The second label refers to The Irish Artisans Exhibition held in Dublin at the South City Markets in June 1885. The title, Un Breton de Finistère, suggests that this is the same painting exhibited earlier at the RHA. It was priced at £25, the same price quoted at the RHA. The third label gives the Royal Academy title of 1886, A Vendean of Finistère, Brittany and an address at Laddingford House, Yalding, Kent; Aloysius had moved there in the latter part of 1885. The fourth label refers to 'The Irish Exhibition in London', held at Olympia, Kensington, in 1888 from the 4th June to the 29th October. This label gives O'Kelly's address as 40 Shaftesbury Avenue, Picadilly Circus W. The title was changed again, this time to Head of a Vendean of Finistère.

The cursive signature is identical to that which O'Kelly used for his work in the ‘Illustrated London News’. He continued to use this style of signature as late as 1889 in paintings such as A Blind Beggar, Cairo and Game of Draughts. This distinctive style separates very clearly the early oriental paintings from later ones such as the Harem Guard, where block capitals are used. With the exception of a handful of key paintings, O'Kelly left most of his work undated and we rely on exhibition records, style and signature type as a guide to the dating of his work.
 

Photograph of a painting by Aloysius O'Kelly

A Breton Pardon

Oil on canvas, 25½ x 21 inches. Signed by the artist.

Provenance: Ben Kabatznick Inc., 1229 Beacon St., Brookline, Mass., circa 1920

The Pardon was a very popular subject with the artists who worked in Brittany at the end of the 19th century. They found the colourful pageantry and throngs of worshippers in their fine costume irresistible. Examples range from Walter Chetwood Aiken’s monumental Pardon of Sainte-Barbe to the tiny panels of Alide Goldschmidt, which we included in our 2006 catalogue. The Pardon gets its name from the Latin perdonare, and refers to the indulgence granted on the feast day of the patron saint of a particular chapel. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia of 1914, pilgrims from every walk of life flock to the Pardons, clad in their best costume. The greater part of the day is spent in prayer and the Pardon begins with Mass at four o’clock in the morning. Its observance, however, actually commences the preceding evening with confession and the rosary. After the religious service, a great procession takes place around the church. At St. Anne d'Auray, this procession is especially striking and impressive. All those whom the intercession of St. Anne has saved from peril and danger join in. The sailors are there with fragments of the vessel, upon which they escaped a shipwreck; the lame are there carrying on their shoulders the crutches, which they no longer need; and those rescued from fire carry the rope or ladder, which they used to escape from the flames.

The present work, probably painted in Concarneau about 1905, may depict a family as they recite the rosary on their way to the church on the eve of the Pardon. The torchlight illuminates the faces of the pilgrims in a soft mystical light. The subtle glow highlights their costume and lights up the silver grey hair of the old man who has removed his hat to join in prayer with the young girl who stands beside him. The smoke from the torches, blown backwards in the wind, fills the air with a mellow golden tinge as it drifts off into the night. O’Kelly shows great skill in balancing the fine glazes, which he used to achieve these effects, with the sombre dark tones of the costume in the lower part of the painting. The fine modelling of the face of the old man is comparable to that in Head of a Breton, Finistère, one of O’Kelly’s finest studies of the Breton people. In another closely related painting, Corpus Christi Procession, Brittany, the dazzling sunlight and white costume of the pilgrims creates a mood, which is the direct opposite to that in our night time scene. Ave Maria, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1909 is a related painting and the costume worn in The Christening Party, painted in 1908, is also worthy of comparison.


Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Pecheur Breton

Oil on canvas 15 x 12 1/2 inches. Signed by the artist

Exhibited:
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, June 1991;
'Re-orientations', Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin, Nov. 1999, number 10;

This painting demonstrates how O'Kelly's style changed over a short number of years. The method used in Head of a Breton is very much in the academic style whereas, in Pecheur Breton, the handling is much more loose and fluid. He uses a hotter palette and employs a myriad of colours mixed wet on wet to display the flesh tones, which is especially evident in the forehead. Long, flowing brushstrokes are used to define the costume while short overlapping blocks of paint are used to define the facial features. This is in stark contrast to the flat planes and dark shadowing of his earlier work.


Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

In the Sunshine, Brittany

Oil on canvas 22 x 18 inches. Signed by the artist
Inscribed on the artist’s original label verso with title and no. 23

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec.2003 catalogue no.1 as A Wayside Conversation
Provenance: Private collection, Pennsylvania, USA

In this painting, O’Kelly displays his ability to paint the Breton people in a sensitive and sympathetic manner. By posing his models in a natural setting and draping them in a sumptuous, soft light, he creates an environment of ease and harmony. The shadow cast by the gate suggests a scene painted in the relaxed atmosphere of early evening. He portrays the girl who stands by the gatepost with a fine degree of natural poise and sophistication; there appears to be a lull in the conversation with the younger girl who sits on a stone wall, her concentration unbroken as she busily tends to her knitting. The side of her face is delicately lit by the reflections of her snow-white costume. Her headdress is identical to that shown in another O’Kelly painting, At the Well, Brittany. In Dr. Niamh O’Sullivan’s comprehensive survey on the artist, ‘re-orientations’ she suggests that this is the costume worn in the region between Quimperlé and Concarneau.

There is an additional link between our painting and another remarkably similar work by Thomas Hovenden entitled A Wayside Chat, which resurfaced recently at auction in the United States. Painted in 1875, Hovenden’s version shows a farm worker sitting on the same gate in conversation with a young girl in similar Breton costume. There is a strong possibility that the gate is located at the end of a path that leads to the farm at Lezaven, situated on the outskirts of Pont Aven. Although Hovenden’s version is not treated as sympathetically as ours, much of the detail is identical, including the leafy background. O’Kelly and Hovenden were painting together in Brittany in 1875. There is a temptation to date our painting to this period. However, the composition, style and physical condition of the canvas suggest a date in the 1890’s or the early 1900’s. There is also the possibility that O'Kelly worked the painting from an earlier drawing.

 

Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Cattle on a Woodland Path

Oil on canvas, 21 x 17 ½ inches. Signed by the artist

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2003

The confidence displayed by O’Kelly in these paintings emanates from his training under Jean-Léon Gérôme and Léon Bonnat. Although this is a fairly simple composition, it demonstrates skilful handling, control of colour harmony, good perspective and an ability to capture atmosphere. The reflections off the water are also well painted. A herdsman, barely discernable in the shadow of the trees, drives the cattle from pasture, just as the evening light begins to fade. It shows O'Kelly's continuing interest in the working life of the Bretons.

 

Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Cattle Grazing in a Woodland, Brittany

Oil on canvas 32 x 26 inches. Signed by the artist

Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 1997

The cattle have moved under the small stand of silver birches. They gain shade from the sun and cool in the breeze as it rushes down to the sea. The view across the bay to the distant shoreline is reminiscent of William John Leech's Baie de la Foret and painted in a remarkably similar range of blues. Both paintings probably date to about 1912. From this period, we find many paintings by O'Kelly which show his interest in portraying the life of the Bretons. They include strong academic character studies, fine robust interiors, religious processions, ferry crossings and busy markets.

 

Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Awaiting the Return, Concarneau

Oil on canvas, 17 x 22 inches. Signed by the artist.

Exhibited: Possibly Babcock Galleries, New York, 1920;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, October 1992;
‘Onlookers in France’, Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork, 1993;
'Re-orientations', Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin, Nov. 1999;
‘Peintres Irlandais en Bretagne’, Musée de Pont-Aven, France, 1999;
'Irish Artists in Brittany', Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork 2001

This is a fine example of O’Kelly’s Impressionist style. His choice of light, delicate pastel shades portray the impression of a balmy, summer's day with a warm breeze floating across the harbour. The radiant light appears to dance across the water whose surface is stirred into motion by the breeze. His confidence at this time in demonstrated by his decision to portray the mother and child with their backs to the viewer. The mother appears to focus on the water as it laps the steps below her. The young girl patiently gazes out to sea, hoping to catch sight of her father's boat as the sardine fleet returns to port.

The scene is painted from a part of the pier at Concarneau known as La Digue. It was a popular spot for artists. The same view across the water may be found in a number of works by Fernand Le Goût-Gérard. Previously known as Reflections at Concarneau, we decided on the current title to avoid confusion with a number of other works of the same name. The painting may also have been called The Hour of Repose if it is the same painting exhibited at the Babcock Galleries in 1920.

 

Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Gathering Kelp

Oil on canvas 20 x 30 inches. Signed by the artist

Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 1981

This painting shows another aspect of the control which O'Kelly had over his work. With great skill he recedes the perspective lines to the right hand side of the canvas and creates the impression that the farm workers have travelled a great distance along the beach. The crisp colouring indicates a spring day with a fresh breeze coming in from the sea. The deeply furrowed beach suggests many previous journeys. The horses look fit and healthy and appear to enjoy the challenge. Their number might seem excessive but they draw a full load of wet and heavy seaweed. This was a difficult task, especially with the wheels sinking into the sand. When they returned to their farm,  the seaweed was used as a vital fertilizer for their cornfields.

It has been suggested that this is a work from the West of Ireland. There is no doubt that O'Kelly would have been reminded of his earlier days in Connemara where he painted similar scenes. However, there is no doubt that this is a French painting. The man in front is wearing clogs and his hat and clothing are distinctly Breton. It is interesting to compare this painting to Augustus Burke's version of the same subject where a small group have gathered on a beach to load seaweed onto small farm carts. The carts are pulled by cobs or small horses who all wear identical harness, very different to that shown in the current painting. A more relative comparison can be made to Howard-Russel Butler's 1886 version of the same subject, Les Ramasseurs de Varech, (Smithsonian, Washington) painted on the beach at Concarneau. The painting shows a pair of draft horses in tandem formation. Other similarities include the blinkers, harness and collars of the horses. Furthermore, this type of work was normally carried out in Ireland by donkeys or small draft horses, whereas, in the current work, the horses are considerably larger, standing at least 16 hands high. They also lack the feathers of the Irish draft horse. This is the distinctive mass of long hair that grows from the fetlock and covers the top of the hoof.
 

Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Breton Market

Oil on panel 7 x 9 1/2 inches

Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 1984

Breton Market, is another good example of O'Kelly's Breton work and is similar in style and handling to many of the paintings made at Concarneau. This panel gives a strong feeling of one painted by a confident artist with total control of his medium. O'Kelly allows us a glimpse of Breton life in a corner of a market. Displaying their unique headdress, the villagers gather their provisions as they move from stall to stall. Shelter from the elements is obtained not only from the canvas awnings, but also from the overhead trees, just as as you will find in most French villages to this day.

 

Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Marché aux Chiffons

Oil on panel, 9 1/4 x 13 inches. Signed by the artist. Inscribed verso, Marché aux Chifons 

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, December 2004

In this example, O’Kelly paints a scene packed with intense activity. He fills the panel with figures clad in bright blues and reds that are set off by the stark contrast with the black and white of the Breton costume. The setting is the rag market in Concarneau. Here, itinerant traders gathered to sell their remnant rolls of linen, velvet and flannelette. The market was well supported by visitors who travelled in from the surrounding countryside. A comparable version was painted in 1886 by Jean-Baptiste-Jules Trayer, which shows a wider view of the same market. O’Kelly uses the bright sunshine to highlight the whites of the costume and the bright rolls of textile displayed on the trestles and on the sheets spread out over the ground. There is a natural blend between the colouring of the costume and the materials on display. O’Kelly combines the myriad of colour into one harmonious unit.  

Market scenes were very popular with the painters of Concarneau. Fernand Le Goût-Gérard’s Marché à Concarneau, which featured in our catalogue of 2003, makes an interesting comparison. The similarities between both paintings are striking, not only in the colouring but also in the overall impression portrayed. Many of these market scenes were noticeably devoid of men, an aspect that is particularly noticeable in the Le Goût-Gérard. Here, however, they are very much in evidence in their blue smocks and black berets. This might suggest that the scene was painted on a Sunday or a feast day when the men were not at sea or working in the fields.

 

Photograph of a Breton painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Old Church at Concarneau

Oil on panel 13 x 9 inches. Signed by the artist

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, June 1991

Perhaps because of his Irish roots O'Kelly painted a number of old churches such as the one shown here while he was in Concarneau. He seems to have favoured the fishing port as a base, probably finding Pont Aven too crowded. When I came across this painting in 1991, very little was known about Aloysius O’Kelly. However, the panel has an inscription on the back that reads “Brother to Kelly M.P.” This inscription encouraged me to begin some research into this mysterious Dublin artist. I eventually found John Devoy's book, 'Recollections of an Irish Rebel' where the O'Kelly mystery was solved. However, I soon discovered that Dr. Niamh O’Sullivan,  Dr. Julian Campbell and Margarita Cappock had coincidentally uncovered similar leads. In 1999, Dr. O’Sullivan published her fine study, ‘Aloysius O’Kelly - re-orientations: painting, politics and popular culture’, in conjunction with the Hugh Lane Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin. A second edition is in the course of preparation and should be published in 2006.

Prior to this, there was considerable confusion about  O’Kelly’s date of birth, not to mention his death. Various dates had been given. Dr. Julian Campbell had quoted from a letter written by O'Kelly to the American dealer William MacBeth in which O’Kelly gives his own date of birth as 1850. Fielding's ‘Dictionary of American Artists’ gives his brother Stephen's date of birth as 1850 and describes him as a sculptor born in Ireland. Benezit’s dictionary gives the date of birth as 1853. Margarita Cappock, ‘Irish Arts Review’ 1996, states that according to Gerome's roster of American pupils, Aloysius O'Kelly was born in June 1851. However, Dr. Niamh O’Sullivan now states emphatically that Aloysius was born on the 3rd July 1853, the youngest of four boys and one girl, to the Kelly family in Dublin.

His grandparents on his father's side came from Roscommon. It was here that his brother James successfully stood against the O'Conor Don in the elections of 1880. His father ran a blacksmith's shop and dray making business in Peterson's Lane, which connects Townsend Street with City Quay. In these days, this would have been a thriving and lucrative business. He also owned the Cumberland cottages off Westland Row. A powerful man possessing great strength, he would slash into two parts with one swathe of a sabre, an iron bar suspended from the ceiling. If O'Kelly inherited the craftsman's gene from his father, the artistic gene was inherited from his mother. Her brother was the highly acclaimed sculptor, John Lawlor, who had become well established in London by the time O'Kelly was a child. A cousin, Michael Lawlor, was also a sculptor who worked in London. The Lawlors who remained in Dublin were cabinetmakers.

There is no doubt that it was O'Kelly's mother who guided him towards a profession in the arts. She sent James to her brother John in London at a very early age to learn the craft of sculpting. However, on his father's insistence, he returned from London to take up an apprenticeship in the family business. The younger brothers managed to walk a different path. Aloysius, Charles and Stephen were all destined to become artists. According to John Devoy, their mother was "a splendid and very intellectual woman". By the time of her husband's death in 1861, she was in bad health and it appears that because of this she had to keep Stephen away from school. Devoy intervened and offered to become Stephen's tutor, thereby forging a close link with the O'Kelly family which was to last a lifetime. It was an intriguing household. O'Kelly's father was an O'Connellite; the Lawlors were Young Irelanders. After his father’s death in 1861, the Dublin properties were sold and the family moved to London. James returned to John Lawlor's studio where he worked for two years before departing to join the French Foreign Legion.

By tracing the career and politics of James J. O'Kelly, a clear picture develops of the influences responsible for many of the paintings of Aloysius O'Kelly. Given the background of James's political involvement and possibly the influence of Stephen's tutor, John Devoy, it is no surprise to find that by 1881 Aloysius is publishing illustrations highly charged with political comment. In October 1881, Charles Stewart Parnell, Member of Parliament and leader of the Irish Party, then at the height of his powers, was arrested and imprisoned in Kilmainham. Two days after his arrest, James J. O'Kelly along with some other Party members, including John Dillon, were also imprisoned in Kilmainham where they remained until May 1882.

 

An engraving by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Under Police Protection

Print taken from 'Illustrated London News', 6 x 9 inches

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 1999

At this time, Aloysius was working as an illustrator for the ‘Illustrated London News’. A number of his drawings portraying the political situation in Ireland during his brother's incarceration were published. One such drawing Under Police Protection: A Sketch at the Claremorris Courthouse gives a good insight into his political affiliations. This was published in a supplement to the 'Illustrated London News’, Nov. 26, 1881. About the same time, the Invincibles killed the British Under-Secretary, T. H. Burke, in Dublin in the Phoenix Park. As a result of the murder, his brother, the artist Augustus Burke, decided it was time to leave Ireland. In the same year Aloysius sent Lough Fee to the Royal Society of British Artists with Kylemore given as his address. Kylemore was the residence of Mitchell Henry, a Merseyside industrialist and Member of Parliament. It may be that James became acquainted with Henry and that through this connection Aloysius stayed at Kylemore.

In 1882 at the Royal Academy, O’Kelly makes another statement on the lifestyle of the rural Irish. A Station - Mass in a Connemara Cabin, which might have been painted as early as 1880, gives an insight into a way of life in Ireland that would have been difficult for a Londoner to imagine. The painting was exhibited a second time at the Paris Salon in 1884 and again at the RHA in 1889. It resurfaced recently in a presbytery in Edinburgh and is now on long term loan to the National Gallery of Ireland.

It comes as a surprise to discover that the works of this period are those of an artist portraying the homeland he had left twenty years previously. The trips to Connemara coincide with those of Stanhope Forbes. This point is well worth making here. Forbes spent his youth in Ireland - a period which spanned many more years than that of O'Kelly's. Forbes writes of returning home to Ireland to paint. These two artists can be included in an extensive list of Irish artists who travelled widely, many of whom never returned to their native land. This wanderlust was a direct consequence of the hardship of famine times that forced so many to flee their birthplace. Some became so well established in their newfound countries that they enticed others to follow in their footsteps. Judging from the fashionable properties owned by John Lawlor in London, it appears that he accumulated a certain amount of wealth and acted as benefactor to the broader family. It may be that the resources to finance Aloysius's studies in Paris came from this source.

 

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

A Skirmish, Scouts Surprised

Oil on canvas 16 x 21 inches. Signed by the artist

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 'Garstin, O'Kelly, Thaddeus and Friends', December 2004

Historically, this is one of Aloysius O’Kelly’s most important paintings, illustrating as it does a region where political unrest continues to this day. It is also the only oil painting to have resurfaced from his time in the Soudan. Aloysius had gone there in December of 1883 with his brother, James J. O’Kelly, to report on the River War, the jihad of the famous Mahdi.  

Both had been posted as special correspondents, Aloysius as illustrator for the Pictorial World and James reporting for the Daily News. Unlike most of the other journalists, they were not under the protection of the British or Egyptian armies but reported from behind the Mahdi lines. James was the organizer of the expedition that also included reporters from Le Figaro and l’Intransigeant, sending home daily reports. The first version of our painting, The War in the Soudan. A Skirmish: Mahdi Scouts Surprised was published on the 31st January 1884 as an engraved double-page spread in the Pictorial World.  It is most likely to have been worked from field sketches on his return to Cairo in1884. Although the address given on the label might suggest a painting of 1889, this merely indicates the date in which the painting was sent to the Royal Academy where it was rejected, most likely because of its political undertones.

At about this time, another Irishman, Colonel William Butler was posted to Egypt as second in command to General Wolsley. By coincidence, Butler was also a friend and strong supporter of Parnell and his cause. His wife, Elizabeth Butler had shot to fame in 1874 with her painting The Roll Call and had every opportunity to continue her work as a military painter in Egypt. It seems very likely that the paths of these two painters would have crossed during Elizabeth's frequent and extended visits. In any event, they certainly knew each other by 1888 when they gathered with Parnell at his shooting lodge in Aughavannah, County Wicklow.

Another artist whose career runs in parallel with O'Kelly's is Roderic O'Conor. Although there is no record of a meeting, it seems likely that he would have known this contemporary of his, bearing in mind the Roscommon connection and the election campaign of 1880. Roderic O'Conor was closely related to The O'Conor Don, whom James O'Kelly had defeated in the elections.

Around 1865, James J. O'Kelly deserted from the French Foreign Legion and escaped to Baltimore. Although he returned immediately to London, it was his first contact with America. Having establishing himself as a journalist in London, he made a return visit to America to see Devoy in 1871. He secured a position with the 'New York Herald' as a journalist. He was very successful with this paper and became Drama Critic and Art Editor. Aside from this occupation he dealt in paintings through the Goupil Gallery on Fifth Avenue. This episode of his career may have spanned the best part of twenty years. It is probable that the connections established there were instrumental in Aloysius O'Kelly's later move to America.

 

Photograph of an Oriental painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Entering the Gate

Oil on canvas 20 x 14 inches. Signed by the artist

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 1999

The signature used in The Harem Guard, first exhibited at the RHA in 1894, is in block capitals and very similar to that used in Entering the Gate. However, the similarities do not end there. The two riders shown riding through the gate are the two leading figures in the Harem Guard. They ride the same white horse and camel with almost all of the detail transferring from one painting to the other. Aloysius O'Kelly is acclaimed for the exotic colouring of these oriental scenes, mostly painted around the markets and streets of Cairo. Sumptuous and palatial interiors were also a feature. The Harem Guard is one of a series of desert scenes which also includes paintings such as Arab Caravan on the Move. They give the impression of plein-air paintings even though they were probably worked in the studio, given their size and complexity. They form the most important aspect of the artist's output from this period.

 

Photograph of a Cairo watercolour by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

A Team of Three, Cairo

 

Watercolour on paper, 13 ¼ x 8 inches. Signed by the artist and inscribed Cairo

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2006

Ireland has produced very few Orientalist painters. John Lavery had a summer residence in Tangier and painted extensively there but his works appear to miss the true spirit of Orientalism. Garstin and Thaddeus come a lot closer but their trips were all too infrequent. O’Kelly comes closest of all and this is undoubtedly due to his time spent studying with Jean-Léon Gérôme, perhaps the greatest Orientalist master of all time.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the minaret in this view of the Cairo streets also appears on one of Gérôme’s paintings, A Warm Day in Cairo. It also forms the background in another work by O’Kelly, A Blind Beggar, Cairo, painted in the immediate vicinity of the painting shown here. These paintings form part of a small series of street scenes in oil and watercolour, which show the local inhabitants as the go about their daily routine.  The donkey was the main mode of transport. Here, a boy drives a team of three who kick up a cloud of dust, closely watched by a resident who leans against a bench in front of his house.

Photograph of a Lough Mask painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Lough Mask 

Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches. Signed by the artist  

Exhibited: Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, 1882, number 624;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, December 2004

This painting must be regarded as an important example of the work of Aloysius O’Kelly as it represents one of his first compositions of pure landscape. Although it was not exhibited until 1882, it was probably painted two years earlier while O’Kelly was living in Connemara by the shores of Lough Fee. This was the period in which he produced a number of other important paintings, including the recently rediscovered Mass in a Connemara Cabin. 

It is almost certain that this is one of the pair of paintings sent to the Royal Hibernian Academy entitled Lough Fee, Connemara and Lough Mask. Both were priced at £10, which compares with the prices on other paintings of the period, for example £7 for Expectation, West of Ireland, exhibited in 1881. The question remains as to which of the pair this is. Lough Fee seems to be the least likely, simply because the landscape does not appear to fit. Assuming it is the second of the pair, this leaves Lough Mask. The northern end of the lake has been suggested, with the view taking in one of the small inlets rather than the full expanse of the Lough. 

Clearly an autumn painting, this was O’Kelly’s favourite season and probably the inspiration behind the painting. It was the time of year in which he painted his best works. The masses of delicate branches are finely painted, their deep rich colours contrasting with the shining bark of the silver birch. The corkscrew-like saplings appear to dance at the edge of the canvas, just below the banks of ferns. Considering the time span and variety of styles in the interim, It is remarkable how this painting compares so closely to one of O’Kelly’s last landscapes. On the Sheepscott River, Maine, painted in America towards the end of his career, shows a similar autumnal view across a waterway, with sparsely covered branches draped across the foreground.

 

Photograph of a Maine painting by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

On the Sheepscott River, Maine

Oil on panel 10 x 12 inches

Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 1997

It is one of a number of paintings O'Kelly produced during a five-month stay on the river that lasted into the autumn of 1912. It is a very easy and controlled painting and gives a good indication of how the artist's career had developed. The handling of water reflections is reminiscent of his harbour scenes of Concarneau. Dr. Julian Cambpell refers to a letter dater 13 November 1912 to the American art dealer, William MacBeth, in which O'Kelly refers to this group of paintings. "Having just returned from Maine after a residence of five months on the Sheepscott River I take the liberty of submitting to you what I believe to be a faithful interpretation of this Country in Autumn." Before this period spent in Maine, records show that Aloysius O'Kelly was showing his work at various exhibitions in New York, Chicago and Milwaukee. O'Kelly lived out his career in America painting scenes of New York City, having emigrated there in 1895. Up to 1908 he gave his address at 108 West 39th Street, where he had a studio. He was an active member of the New York Watercolour Club and had a Brooklyn address up to 1929. He was in Paris in 1935 and remained on the records of the NYWC until 1941.

 

Photograph of a student study by the Irish artist, Aloysius O’Kelly

Male Study

Oil on canvas 18 x 15 inches. Signed by the artist, verso

Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 1998;
Re-orientations, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin, Nov. 1999, number 10

Dr. Niamh O'Sullivan has identified this study as a work from O'Kelly's student days in Paris. He enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1874 and studied under Bonnat and Gérôme. The work can be considered rare, not just in O'Kelly's output but also as a work of the period. Most examples of this type did not survive because they were usually scraped down and painted over. This one was treated in a different way. The canvas was reversed and re-stretched to facilitate the painting of a landscape, an autumnal river scene. We considered the portrait study to be superior and consequently reversed the process to show the current work.

Up to very recently, nothing was known about O'Kelly's final days. However, in her recent book, 'Art, Nation, Empire', Dr. Niamh O'Sullivan discloses that his death took place at Ploughkeepsie, on the east bank of the Hudson River, 70 miles north of New York city in comfortable surroundings. He continued to paint until his last days.

 

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