Sir Gerald Festus Kelly
1879-1972 | English
Antoñita va a los toros
(Antoñita going to the Bulls)
Oil on canvas
Signed (en verso)
World-renowned for his exquisitely composed portraits, British painter Sir Gerald Festus Kelly offers an intriguing mix of sensuality and innocence in this arresting portrait of a young Andalusian beauty. Kelly’s full powers in the handling of color and paint are clearly on display, as well as his remarkable ability to create portraits of intense power and expression. Rendered with exquisite detail and draftsmanship, Kelly’s brushstrokes reproduce in stunning detail the translucent lace framing his subject’s youthful visage, the delicate folds of her silk lilac dress, and her expression of intriguing tranquility. The highly exhibited work, entitled Antoñita va a los toros, represents the English painter’s artistic heights, embodying the uniquely expressive, yet traditional portraiture that permeates his distinctive oeuvre.
Composed in the Academic style, Antoñita va a los toros is a study of captivating personality and expression. It is this quality that makes his portraits so compelling; a master of observation, Kelly possessed the rare ability to capture a true sense of his subject. Dubbed “a student of character” by the art critic W.S. Maugham, Kelly gained a reputation for his works’ poignancy as much as his technical accomplishments. In Antoñita va a los toros, his arrangement of his subject, slightly away from the viewer, is masterfully conceived. Though her gaze is direct, her body’s position conveys a coyness that is only enhanced by the veil that falls around her face and the fan held open in her lap. It is a stunning example of the subtle sensuality and strength that permeates his portraiture.
An avid traveler, Kelly filled his canvases with subjects that reflect the diverse cultures he encountered during his lifetime. From exotic locales such as Burma and South Africa to the closer regions of Italy and Spain, his inspiration was both far reaching and ever-fascinating. Antoñita va a los toros exemplifies these works; his Andalusian subject is simultaneously exotic and accessible, rendered in a vibrant palette of cobalts, reds, and purples that frame her elegant, yet affable face. Donning a stunning lace mantilla and colorful peineta, she is elaborately dressed in the traditional costume of the bullfight. Exuding an unapologetic boldness and charisma, Antoñita evokes the theatricality of Manet’s portraits of Spanish dancers, though not at the expensive of her individuality.
Born in London in 1879, Kelly spent his youth studying at Eton College and Trinity College Cambridge, and later moved to Paris in 1901. It was there that he received his first artistic training, falling under the influence of James McNeil Whistler and John Singer Sargent, while befriending such greats as Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, and Auguste Rodin. In 1920, he married Lillian Ryan, and she would become the subject of numerous works, which he titled Jane – Kelly submitted a portrait of her to the Royal Academy nearly every year following their marriage. Her face, thus, became one of the best known in England; upon meeting her, the Queen Mary is said to have exclaimed: “Jane of the many Janes!” Among his other famed sitters were King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Henry Clay Frick, T. S. Eliot, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Somerset Maugham.
Elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1930, he was later appointed its President, a post which he held from 1949 to 1954. Today, his remarkable works are represented in important public collections worldwide, including the Tate Gallery (London), the Frick Collection (New York), the National Portrait Gallery (London), the Royal Collection (Windsor Castle) and the Crawford Art Gallery (Cork).
Canvas: 40 1/8” high x 30 1/2” wide
Frame: 51 1/4” high x 41 1/4” wide
Sir Malcolm Sargent, the English conductor
Atkinson Art Gallery
Annual Exhibition of the National Portrait Society, Agnews Gallery, London, 1920, no. 17
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1920
Oldham Gallery, Oldham, 1920
Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum, Aberdeen, 1921
Modern British Art, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1922
Southampton Art Gallery, Southampton, 1923, no. 28
Art Museum of Toronto, Toronto, 1925
Bristol City Art Gallery, Bristol, 1928
Bradford City Art Gallery and Museum, Cartwright Hall, Bradford, 1931
Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, 1931
Atkinson Art Gallery, Southport, 1936
Exhibition of works by Sir Gerald Kelly, 1957, Royal Academy of Arts, Diploma Gallery, London, no. 184
Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, 1958, no. 16
Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, 1958, no. 14
Art Exhibitions Bureau Traveling Exhibition, 1958-61