Sir Gerald Festus Kelly (1879 - 1972)

Ma Si Gyaw, pose III, circa 1909

SKU: 74

Inscribed with title on the canvas return (on three sides)
Oil on canvas, squared in pencil and chalk, 67 x 36 in. (170.2 x 91.5 cm.)

Height – 170.2cm
Width – 91.5cm


The artist John Napper, Kelly’s studio assistant

Provenance: The artist John Napper, Kelly’s studio assistant

I had seen some snapshots of Burmese dancers, and so, with the sublime
spontaneous stupidity of youth, I just went off to Burma. How lucky, how
wonderfully lucky, I was
.’ (Sir Gerald Kelly, Exhibition of Burmese
Paintings, 1962, Preface).

Kelly worked continually in the last months of 1908 and early months of
1909, painting small landscapes and studies of Burmese girls, … but the
Burmese picture most likely to be remembered is one of the dancer Ma Si
Gyaw, begun at Mandalay in 1909 and presented by Francis Howard to the
Tate in 1914
.’ (Derek Hudson, For Love of Painting, The Life of Sir
Gerald Kelly, 1975
, p. 32.) Kelly’s paintings of Oriental dancers soon
became familiar to the public through popular prints – at one time
amongst the most popular reproductions in Britain. Maugham wrote
enthusiastically of the paintings: ‘his Burmese dancers … have a strange
impenetrability, their gestures are enigmatic and yet significant, they
are charming, and yet there is something 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,
‘ (Somerset
Maugham, ‘A Student of Character‘, International Studio, December 1914).
Kelly painted Ma Si Gyaw about thirty-six times. This painting remained
in his studio until it was inherited by the painter John Napper,
Kelly’s studio assistant.

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Sir Gerald Festus Kelly
Sir Gerald Festus
1879 - 1972

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.


Sir Gerald Festus Kelly (1879 - 1972)
Still Life with Anenomes, circa 1930
Sir Gerald Festus Kelly (1879 - 1972)
The Oval, circa 1905
Sir Gerald Festus Kelly (1879 - 1972)
Palace Mandalay, 1909
Sir Gerald Festus Kelly (1879 - 1972)
Ma Si Gyaw, pose III, circa 1909