Felix Kelly (1914-94)

Towards the end of the Second World War Brenda Rawnsley and her husband Derek had the idea of bringing contemporary art to young children who would otherwise not have had the opportunity to see ‘good’ work. Within a few years Brenda had set up School Prints Ltd to sell original lithographs to schools and had commissioned several of the most important living artists for her scheme.

Brenda Rawnsley sought the advice and assistance of the art historian Herbert Read and between them they chose the artists. The printing was undertaken by the Baynard Press from stones or zinc plates drawn by the artists, who were asked to use no more than six colours. The prints, being original lithographs, were often the first real art seen by young people of that period and are typical of their time.

Born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1914, Felix Kelly left his home country for the UK in 1935, never to return. After training as a graphic artist, Kelly resumed painting in 1943 after serving in the RAF from the outbreak of World War II.

Kelly's paintings were influenced by the Surrealists, but his specialisation in domestic architecture saw him develop a romantic style that often included a number of recurring motifs such as red and white striped deckchairs, and items of mechanical engineering such as hot air balloons, paddle steamers, trains, and lighting fixtures. His paintings were meticulously executed: houses were painted to an architecturally accurate standard, but often contrasted with an untamed, almost sinister landscape that nodded to his Surrealist counterparts.

Felix Kelly is represented in collections of the Royal College of Physicians, the National Trust, Museums Sheffield and Southampton City Museums. The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa holds his archive of sketches and photographs. His most well known commission was the four murals painted in the Garden Hall at Castle Howard in 1982.

Drifter and Steamers, 1947
49.5 x 76 cm

From the second School Print series,