Framed (ref: 1287)
Oil on canvas, squared for transfer, 22 x 67 1/2 in. (56 x 171.5 cm.)
‘Kelly’s Burmese dancers have a strange impenetrability, their gestures are enigmatic and yet significant, they are charming, and yet there is so mething curiously hieratic in their manner; with a sure instinct, and with a more definite feeling for decoration than is possible in a portrait, Mr Kelly has given us the character of the East as we of our generation see it (William Somerset Maugham,‘A Student of Character: Gerald Festus Kelly’, International Studio, December 1914).
This large study depicts a synchronised dance group, or Yein. The performance known as Nan Twin Ah Phyo Taw Yein (literally ‘synchronised dance group of young girls performing at the palace’) would typically have been presented to the British Governor or other high-ranking officials, and Kelly may well have seen such a performance whilst living at the house of the District Judge during his seminal six-month stay in Mandalay from 1908 to 1909. The elaborate headdresses signify that the girls are unmarried.This remarkable study remained in the artist’s studio until the artist’s death in 1972, at which point they were inherited by the painter John Napper, Kelly’s studio assistant.
The 1957 Kelly exhibition held at the Royal Academy included a painting on the same theme titled Yein Pwe: Pagan, which is recorded as having been started in 1912 and thereafter worked upon on numerous occasions.We are grateful to Robert Thornhill, Nanda Heinn and Nance and Ko Aung for their assistance.
Painter in oil of portraits and landscapes. Born in London, he was educated at Cambridge University, later living and studying art in Paris. Whistler was an early influence. Kelly was an enthusiastic traveler, visiting among other countries Spain, America, South Africa and Burma, where he painted some of his most characteristic and charming figure studies. He became known as a sound academic painter of attractive children and elegant women. His sitters included Somerset Maugham, whom he painted several times, and he undertook numerous state portraits. Kelly is represented in many public collections, including the Tate Gallery, which holds seven works. He had retrospective exhibitions at the Leicester Galleries in 1950 and in 1957 at the RA. He was elected RA in 1930, was the Academy's keeper 1943-45 and President, 1949-54. Kelly held a number of official positions, such as his membership of the Royal Fine Arts Commission, 1938-43, and was knighted in 1945. Between 1909 and 1970 Kelly exhibited over 300 works at the RA. During his lifetime his work became well known through popular prints. Since his death however - and in spite of his technical brilliance and colourful, wide-ranging subject matter - his reputation has stagnated. The artist John Napper worked as his assistant.