Sir Gerald Festus Kelly enjoyed one of the most distinguished careers of any twentieth-century British artist. He was one of only four artists to be awarded The Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO); his highly effective Presidency of the Royal Academy (1949-1954), brought a groundbreaking series of exhibitions which greatly popularized the institution.
When a love affair with a dancer ended painfully in 1908, Kelly travelled to Mandalay, Burma, and spent a year being thrilled by its colour and lifestyle. "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" (Gerald Kelly, Exhibition of Burmese Paintings, 1962, preface). Reproductions of Kelly's paintings undertaken in Burma, became at one time amongst the most popular prints in Britain. He travelled extensively throughout his career, and enjoyed painting such plein air sketches as this. A great raconteur and bon vivant, he delivered what might serve well as his epitaph, at a speech to the Royal Academy in 1953: "I am a naughty old man, utterly unrepentant in my love of things beautifully done."
"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).