Kelly Page 2b.2

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The Landing of the Hector, Pictou, N.S., 1773 - JD Kelly
Orig. Personal Artist's Proof - Size - 36 x 44 cms
Found - Aberfoyle, ON
Titled & Original painted colour bars in JD Kelly's own hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection.

An absolutely fabulous discovery, is JD Kelly's personal Artists's Proof lithograph of one of his most famous works, and titled in his own hand.

Artist's Proofs are traditionally about 10% of a print run, that are signed by the artist, and often labeled AP for Artist's Proof.

But this is not one of the "production run" APs, but the personal working print which JD himself examined and agonized over interminably, seeking out every flaw in colour and contrast that needed correction. It is JDs primary tool which he used for ensuring quality control of the "Hector print" before giving his approval to start the presses for the common run of Artist's Proofs. He kept this print in his files as a personal memento of his work, and as a reference check for future print runs.

To remind himself, and the publisher, he has written the title in his own hand, in the margin, so it can be typeset by the printer and then combined with the picture into a printing master to run copies for public release.

At the bottom, JD painted his primary colour blocks directly on this personal copy so that correct colour separations could be made to faithfully reflect his palette. In the margins are the registration marks used to line up the paper with the plate.

The colours, in this first generation print, are, of course, superior to the later copies, run from dupe printing masters.

JD Kelly was no slouch. He filled his canvases with action and characters that were acting out commonly recognized behaviours.

An especially fine touch is the dog, unused to so much noise from so many people, seemingly cowering in fear, as his master, glad of the new company, greets the newcomers.

Or is it that, after eleven weeks at sea, without a bath, the arriving Scot seems to be harbouring some peculiar smells that the dog wants to investigate, while he is momentarily distracted by his master.

Capturing humour, or subtleties of human and animal behaviour that makes us all smile, knowingly, was not something Group of Seven artists cared to explore or record in any of their paintings. They were serious guys...

The Hector Scots: On Sept. 15, 1773, about 200 Scots landed at Pictou, Nova Scotia (New Scotland), to begin a wave of Scottish immigration that would go on for decades.

After a terrifying voyage, during which 18 babies died, they landed on the north shore of Nova Scotia, and splashed ashore.

JD Kelly has painted this dramatic moment, featuring the stowaway piper, who kept spirits up during the long voyage. Behind him, people of all ages struggle ashore with flags, family bibles, and luggage, as a couple of solitary Scots, who are already there, come down to greet them.

A replica of the Dutch ship Hector, which brought them here, was built in the 1990s and is based at Pictou as a tourist attraction.

JD Kelly - 1862-1958 - 2

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JD Kelly - as a young man, left, and as he was in later life - lived to a ripe old age.

He, probably more than any other Canadian artist, gave generations of Canadians their feel for the great epic events in Canadian history, and, in their mind's eye, a pictorial representation of what it must have looked like if one had only been there to have seen it, as JD Kelly obviously did...

Well he painted like he had been there!

As a result, his paintings of Great Canadian Events appeared on calendars for years and on special print runs issued to celebrate Canada's historic highlights.

He is especially famous for his Confederation Life Series of prints. There is not a Canadian who has not seen at least one of those.

At one time it was possible to say that there wasn't a single Canadian who had not seen at least one JD Kelly picture! Most had seen more...

No other Canadian artist could say that.

No other Canadian artist painted as many pictures recognized by Canadians, as did JD Kelly.

JD Kelly - 1862-1858

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

We recently discovered a treasure trove of JD Kelly's original watercolours and personal working copies of his Artist's Proofs, which he kept as a record of his work and used to send corrections, in colour and contrast, to his printer. These wonderful working prints were handled, and agonized over endlessly, by JD, to make sure that the colours matched his originals exactly.

They all are titled in his own hand; some have other scribbles on them; some have paper repairs; all have the original registration marks in the margins; on one JD has painted the colour blocks to give the printer a match for the original colours on his palette. All have the glorious colours that come from an original print made from the original plate.

These are akin to JD's personal diary of his life's work. It must be remembered that his original watercolours, gouaches, and oils, all became the property of his clients. These preparatory watercolours and first run proofs are the only record JD had of what he had painted.

While it is nice to have prints signed by an artist, it is wonderful, beyond belief, to discover, and preserve for posterity, the original working prints used by one of Canada's very finest artists to make many of Canada's most memorable historic images.

When JD Kelly died, at 96, in 1958, without children, these private prints were acquired by a close working associate of the artist who has preserved them for the past fifty years.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
United Empire Loyalists Landing at St. John, N.B. - JD Kelly
Orig. Personal Artist's Proof - Size - 36 x 44 cms
Found - Aberfoyle, ON
Titled in JD Kelly's hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection.

Another fabulous JD Kelly personal Artist's Proof of a famous landing scene, this time the Loyalists landing at St. John, New Brunswick.

Once again, JD has titled the litho himself. And on the margins again the registration marks to help hold the paper accurately to the plate.

Eight Planes of Interest: There is no finer example of the lithographer's art in existence, than this fine work by JD Kelly.

The layout design on this litho is fabulous - there is something going on everywhere. And, in the classic tradition of the finest artists, JD had created intriguing depth in his canvas by showing something in action in the foreground, middle ground, and background. He directs your eye into the picture.

The couple and baby, leading their horse, attract your immediate attention; then your eye is drawn to the officer group where workmen are preparing timbers for construction; Kelly then sends you to the middle ground figure waving across to the tent camp and flag across the way, and the ox team at work; finally, in the background, he sends you to the ships where crewmen are rowing supplies between the docks and the boats.

JD has designed no fewer than eight main planes of interest into this picture, giving this painting a depth you will find in not a single Group of Seven panel: family trio, officer group, waving group, oxen working, tent camp, town and docks, ships, distant islands. This shows talent and creativity on a level in the painting and lithography field that is on a par with the finest design work in the best films by John Ford.

Don't ever look for this kind of complex pictorial arrangement and composition in any Group of Seven painting; you won't find it. But then they don't come from the stress school of painting, where you have to entirely dream up every figure, landscape, and action arrangement, in your head. And, on top of all that, please the contracting client at the same time! Far, far too much creative stress; too much like work!

The Group's work grew out of their wish to relax, unfold a camp stool in front of some scene and copy it on a sketch pad. It was relaxing, sort of like painting a barn in front of you, or a barber shop pole, if you will. Don't talk to them of eight planes of interest; one or two is enough, thank you. Gotta get two or three sketches done before lunch, thank you...

A Kinder, Gentler America: United Empire Loyalists started to arrive in Canada after 1776, when the Americans revolted against Britain. Many British subjects in the American Colonies wanted to stay loyal to the British Crown and so showed their political preferences by picking up stakes and moving to colonies further north that were not as revolting as the Americans.

After General Gage abandoned New York, in March, 1776, the flow of United Empire Loyalists north began and never let up over the next ten years. The UELs moved into the southern parts of what is Canada today, just over the border from the US.

Kelly painted this stunning picture of one such group of UELs arriving at the mouth of the St. John River, where a large city by that name would rise.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
U E Loyalists in Sight of Canada - JD Kelly
Orig. Personal Artist's Proof - Size - 36 x 44 cms
Found - Aberfoyle, ON
Titled & initialed in JD Kelly's hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Seeking - A Kinder, Gentler America!

Pointing to the Promised Land - a kinder, gentler America - is a wounded soldier, in another fabulous JD Kelly personal Artist's Proof, of another famous immigrant arrival, again, of United Empire Loyalists, this time fleeing the wrath, and bearing the scars, from the warlike Americans to the south.

Once again, JD has titled the AP in his own hand, and almost absentmindedly, initialed it, JDK, as well.

Horse Sense: Of special note is the JD horse. JD's friend, and sometime painting collaborator, was Art Hider. When a commission called for prominent horses, JD called in Art, who was a master at painting horses. They split the commission and often signed these equestrian prints together. Hey, we didn't say Kelly was perfect - just as good as it gets!

JD knew Art was the master at horses so avoided doing them himself, hiring Art, or covering them up, with human figures and baggage, like he did in both UEL prints featured here.

JD Kelly also painted a Canada we all recognize, where the men are ruggedly handsome and the women rosy and beautiful...

A JD Kelly Mystery!

The back of this print has a strange patch below, where several rips have been carefully repaired, and a piece of paper has been laboriously inserted. On the obverse, right, it is impossible to tell where the patch is, because JD has so carefully done his repair and repainted the patch that it takes the best eyes, holding the paper up to the light and tilting it, to see that there was once a huge hole in the paper there.

Why would JD go to all this trouble on a print! Why not just throw it out and get one without a hole?

It is a fact that some Group of Seven painters did a complete sketch in the time that JD worked to repair a small corner defect in his personal copy of his quality control print.

Did he initial it himself to verify that he has done the repair? Clearly, no one but the artist would devote so much time to repairing a print. But then JD Kelly believed passionately in the quality of work he produced for his clients and released to the public.

Performance Art: There is another big difference between the Fab Five - JD Kelly, Arthur Heming, Art Hider, CW Jefferys, Owen Staples - and the Group of Seven. The Fab Five were performance artists, they worked to please clients and to fulfill contracts; it was what they did for a living; it was what they chose to do as a private passion as well. They sought to involve themselves in the many people, places, and events of Canadian History. With relish! They were pleased to paint something for someone else, to communicate to others something they all shared from their common experience as Canadians.

Not so the Group of Seven.

They were escapists; escaping from society and the world of mankind, especially in their art. The highlight of their lives was to get away from the urban ghetto, where they toiled for dollars at unsatisfying work, for unappreciative bosses. In fact little of the work they did in the concrete canyons of downtown Toronto, survives...

Ah for spring, when they could escape urban society, in all its forms, and plant their canvas folding stool somewhere as far from humanity as it was possible to get, and still find a warm place to bed down for the night. Then off to find a tree, a hill, a rock, a barn, a mountain, but not necessarily in that order... The main consideration for painting subjects for them - they had to hold still while they were painted...

They were not performance artists for others; they were from the school of self-indulgent artists; they were painting for themselves. They really had no choice - sort of like Atom Egoyan and his movies - because no one else wanted to look at their stuff. Exactly!

Whereas the Fab Five had insurance companies and banks, publishers and printers, postcard and calendar manufacturers, and teachers, educators, and librarians, across Canada - even into the United States - hungering for their artistic output, the Group members had to put on their own shows to display their work in front of appreciative audiences, which they also had to provide - usually made up of themselves, their family, their friends...

It's all about JD Kelly's eight planes of interest - and their art didn't have it!

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005