As a young man in 1901, Gerald Kelly was sent to France to study painting by his father, the Vicar of Camberwell. The portraits he painted during his first few years in Paris have come to mark the beginning of his lifelong passion for art, and represent some of his most compelling and sensitive images. In a television interview in 1956, Gerald Kelly openly described his experiences as a twenty-two year old: When I got to Paris, something went ‘bang’ inside me, and I, who had never gone to lectures or ever worked, had been utterly lazy, started to paint. I painted as long as the light lasted and, by and large, I have done that ever since. Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century was still the Paris of the Impressionists, where Kelly was introduced to the influential art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Kelly was overwhelmed by the wealth of paintings at both Ruel’s home and gallery, although his admiration for French painting never triumphed over his love for the works of Velázquez. Paul Durand-Ruel took the young artist to see Claude Monet at Giverny and introduced him to Rodin, whose advice and kindness he came to value greatly. When Rodin succeeded Whistler as President of the International Society in 1903, it was the young Gerald Kelly whom he asked to accompany him to London to take up the appointment.Kenneth Clark described Gerald Kelly as ‘the most reliable portrait painter of his time,’ and Clive Bell thought him ‘about the best President of the Royal Academy since Sir Joshua Reynolds.’
Sir Gerald Kelly was a founder-member of the Modern Portrait Painters Society in 1907 and of the National Portrait Society in 1910. He was Keeper of the Royal Academy from 1943–5; member of the Royal Fine Arts Commission 1938–43; became President of the Royal Academy from 1949–54. He was knighted 1945.
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