Kelly Page 2e.5

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Simply Fabulous! JD shows us time and again, the great Canadian faces he can draw. Even the giant flounder, as he breaks water, seems impressed by the genial Newfies who gaff him, and are about to boink out his brains.

Canada's fish-rich Grand Banks of Newfoundland attracted fishermen from Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain, as early as the 15th century. Long before the first explorers, with names, were given credit for "finding" the New World, countless anonymous fishermen had made annual trips there, fishing for a living.

Their wives and kids, back home, knew of America - Madre. ¿Fue el papá pescando en América otra vez? - long before the Kings of France and England, and the explorers they funded, ever did; they only learned it by overhearing gossip at the docks...

JD has created a feast for the eyes here - and the brain! Wonderfully distributed across the canvas are the fishing schooners that brought the fishermen to the fishing grounds, the dories, sent out by the mother ships to catch the fish with line and hook, all set off against a magnificent iceberg typical of those that drift down the Newfoundland coast in spring.

This painting is perfect example of how JD deliberately seeks to subliminally educate the audience, all under the guise of a superb artistic presentation. Every part of the canvas shows another aspect of the way the fishery would operate if you were there to see it.

Schooners racing past each other, off to chase the latest rumour on which part of the banks has just tied into a passing school. Others on stand-by, hove-to, as the dory men unload their catch into the holds of the mother ship.

In the distant dories, with a few creative dabs of paint, JD has wonderfully captured the solitary preoccupation of the men, ignoring the passing commotion, hunched over in the boats, each working his own line.

And JD uses, to great educational effect, the pretence of the dory in the foreground, leaning over to bring in a fish. JD really want to tilt the boat to let the audience see what the insides of all the boats out there look like.

Foreground, middle ground, background, and many other planes of interest in between shows JD Kelly, one of Canada's very finest artists, at his peak.

Now go back to the top and ask yourself. What member of the Group of Seven has ever painted anything so action laden, so completely marine-centred, and so replete with Canadian heritage significance?

Can't think of one either? Or one of their works that matches it? Give up? Well so did the Group artists, who retreated to the realm of the merely "pretty," when confronted with the multitalented genius of JD Kelly and his brother historical artists, AH Hider, Arthur Heming, and CW Jefferys.

We suspect the Groupies found it very difficult to plant a canvas folding stool on the water, among other inconveniences... "Why do those damn boats keep moving out of frame, and that fool iceberg keeps melting away, before I can get the colour right...? Give me a hill, or a rock, or a tree that sits still on terra firma anytime. Besides, there's way too many people out here to make a good painting!"

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

The Wealth of Our Seas - JD Kelly
Orig. gouache wc - Size - 54 x 76 cm
Found - Brampton, ON
Annotated and initialed in JD Kelly's hand, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Simply Fabulous! As fine or finer than anything David Blackwood ever did at his peak, is this superlative gouache JD Kelly painted of the historic Newfoundland fishery in its heyday. Some of his notations are on the matte.

The Discovery of Canada: It was the enormous richness of the Newfoundland fishery that led Europeans to discover and develop Canada in the first place. The fishery was the founding industry of Canada, and for centuries would remain one of the main pillars that sustained economic life in Canada; it was also the mainstay of family life in the Atlantic provinces.

Into modern times, more than any other Canadians, the people of Canada's maritime provinces depended on the fishery to sustain and feed their families, to a degree approaching that of the hunting and gathering lifestyle of Canada's Aboriginal Peoples.

JD Kelly painted this busy scene at the height of the economic boom on the fishing grounds. Sadly, it remains an image frozen in time.

The Wealth of Our Seas: JD Kelly could never have believed that his title would not speak for all time.

But today the Atlantic fishery has been all but destroyed, mostly by greedy politicians, ever on the lookout for momentary advantages to advance their careers, and so chronically unwilling to make the tough decisions of planning for the long run, until it was too late, and the lives of countless fishing families torn apart, their sole livelihood - for centuries - obliterated, and a heritage resource irretrievably squandered.

But not all is lost. It's an ill wind... as they say along the coast...

Despite the havoc they left in their wake, at least the regional politicians managed to eke out a living for their families, with company directorships received from corporate friends, their government expense accounts, munificently indexed government pensions, and their many lucrative lobbying contracts spun their way from friends and associates in high places.

JD Kelly - 1862-1958 - 5

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JD's artistic technique, at this stage of creation, is evident in this fabulous picture, which is a mock-up for a later, final work. To begin with he made it large, so the story and the compositional elements, would be more striking. JD Kelly's historic paintings always centred on people so he included a powerful foreground figure. JD finished his face to convey the courage, determination, and the humanity, of the pioneer stock that built the foundations of Canada.

JD shows us the rude, one room cabin, made of stacked logs, chinked with mud, that was the first home in the wilderness for the refugees. It was small, dark, over-crowded - communal beds were the rule - and smoky. The single, mud-splattered chimney provided the only heat for the building, making it too hot at one end, and cold at the other. The fire was always out long before dawn; more than a few babies were found frozen to death by morning.

JD didn't want to waste time to do detail work on the faces of the background figures, saving that for a later version of this preliminary presentation. But he posed them with authority carrying out the common tasks of pioneer life.

The woman and child are watering the goat, on which the family depended for fresh milk and cheese.

But it was the ox team that was the backbone of the early pioneer farm. These powerful plodding animals pulled the felled logs from the bush to the burning piles, with chains hooked to massive wooden yokes fitted around their necks. (Left from another Kelly print.)

Horses were no use for this kind of work, as they were too high-strung, prone to panic, and then break legs, amid stumps and roots. Docile oxen were preferable for clearing fields; horses would be more useful once dirt roads and paths were built through the forest. Today, some 200 years after oxen were at their peak of use it is not uncommon to come across ox yokes at country auctions.

The ox heritage is still strong in the eastern parts of Canada, where the original Loyalists settled two hundred years ago. Many recreational teams of oxen are kept and trained for championship ox pulls which are held every summer, with Canadians competing against their neighbours, the Americans from Maine and New Hampshire.

Odd as it may seem to outsiders, Canadians name all their oxen, Bright and Lyon; the Americans name all theirs Babe and Blue. That way, it is explained to tourists from Toronto, when oxen are sold, or exchanged, it avoids the stress, for man and beast, of having to learn a new name. Apparently it works, as long as you don't try to exchange across the border.

So, over 200 years after their Revolutionary War forefathers split over a matter of political principle, their descendants are still fighting it out, albeit before cheering crowds, on a more gentlemanly playing field.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The Pioneers, JD Kelly
Orig. gouache wc - Size - 55 x 72 cm
Found - Brampton, ON
Signed in JD Kelly's hand, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection
Simply Fabulous! The pioneers, which JD painted so powerfully in this huge watercolour, are the original English settlers who flooded into Canada after the revolting Americans broke away from England in the 1780s, and tried to make the less revolting Americans feel unwelcome, by burning their homes and crops, leering at their womenfolk, and molesting their livestock.

The more peace-loving Americans, who had sought to find a calm refuge in the American Thirteen Colonies, didn't find it there. So off they went again, to find a Kinder, Gentler, America - and found it in Canada...

In the 1780s and 90s, by the thousands, the best of the American gene pool crossed the frontier into British owned Upper and Lower Canada, and into New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, leaving the war-loving members of their countrymen behind, to intermarry, and through time, to develop into a more virulent strain of the universally feared species Americanus Warribilis.

JD painted fine portraits of the political refugee UELs - United Empire Loyalists, who wanted to remain loyal to Britain - arriving in Canada. (featured elsewhere in the Museum.)

In this fabulous painting he illustrates the hard life that awaited them; they had to begin all over again, from scratch. In the American colonies most had probably had frame houses, and barns and sheds to house their livestock, and cleared and tilled soil that grew crops.

They arrived in Canada with little but their clothes on their backs and the pots and pans they could stash in a wagon or small boat.

Then they had to chop down the primeval forest to make a clearing to build a shelter for their families.

We get a wonderful feel for the artistry of JD Kelly, who, with a few judiciously applied strokes of gouache, gives us a strong personality, whose determination we can feel, in the eyes, the neck, the jaws, and those massive shoulders.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure


Another fine preliminary watercolour which JD once mocked-up to tell a story he though was worth telling.

A soldier stops to investigate a complaint with a frontier farmer.

"There, over there, that's were the American terrorists came across and tried to burn down our barn. But we chased them off. Hopefully they will leave us in peace from now on."

But JD was not into politics. He wanted only to portray the hardships of pioneer life, and the genius it took to make it all work when all the odds were against you.

In Early Agriculture JD shows a settler plowing while stumps still litter the field. After he built his home to assure shelter for the winter, he had to fell the trees to make fields.

Crops were grown around the stumps; it took too much time, and effort, to remove them. Let them rot in place. Got to get the seed in fast. Before you know it, winter will be upon us. So little time, so few hands, and so much to do.

In the caption below the watercolour JD had typed up notes on the history of the plow in early Canada.

JD Kelly shows the enormous amount of intellectual research that lay behind every painting he did.

No one in the Group of Seven bothered with any of that. They just sat down - anywhere - and painted - anything. They only wanted exercise for their brush, and their eyes, not their brains.

Early Agriculture in Canada, JD Kelly
Orig. gouache wc - Size - 41 x 53 cms
Found - Brampton, ON
Signed and annotated in JD Kelly's hand, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Simply Fabulous! Entitled in his own hand, and reference noted "not used," is this fabulous work showing again, JD's powerful mastery of human figures that exude personality through both face and body.

The watercolour may not have been used, or ever seen in public before, but JD was proud of this work. At some point, probably later in life, when he was sorting his files, he added his name in full, below his earlier - and younger - initials.

The hand is more shaky, now that he is in his eighties, but not the sense of private pride that made JD such a master at presenting, with such absolute authority, the power of pride in early Canadians. If you feel good about yourself, you are more likely to see it in others.

JD was immensely proud of his work; he knew the research, time and effort it took to produce it; it is the genius of JD Kelly that he could see the same hard work and dedication in the French and English pioneers who built the foundations of Canada.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Royal William at Quebec

On the right, protecting the town below, are the Heights of Quebec, overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

Here at Wolfe's Cove, the British General after whom it was named, landed his men, at night, to climb the heights and come in the city's back door, to fool an unsuspecting foe.

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was fought on the flats on top and the French Regime of 150 years came to an end.

Soon the British were building ships at the Cove, left, including the Royal William, in 1834, became the first ship to cross the Atlantic by steam alone. (Though JD has the date wrong.)

In subsequent years the Cove became a gigantic assembly basin where huge log rafts would gather from the interior, be taken apart, and the logs stuffed into the bow ports of sailing ships to be taken to England.

The Pioneers, JD Kelly
Orig. personal Artist's Proof - Size - 36 x 44 cms
Found - Brampton, ON
Signed in JD Kelly's hand, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Simply Fabulous! JD betrays his love affair with Canadian history in his hand-written title to this fabulous personal artist's proof. And he clearly wants Canadians to share his enthusiasm.

He has elegantly - but accurately - captured probably the most storied industrial site in Canadian history. But this is not just a simple boat building scene; it displays a history of boating on the St. Lawrence: in the background, the sailing ships that for over 200 years called at Quebec, and would for another century.

The Royal William may herald the coming age of steam with engines of iron, but keeps the wooden hull of a sailing ship. Iron ships were still a lifetime away.

In the middle distance, are two sluggish, broad, and shallow-draught bateaux, which take cargo and passengers from the bigger ships inland through locks and smaller rivers.

A very nice touch is the construction of the birch bark canoe which, for millennia, was the only boat on the St. Lawrence.

And, as in so many of his prints, JD features Indians; he saw them as playing important and supporting roles in Canadian history. In all his pictures he portrays them as knowledgeable and full of the same nobility with which he imbued the European Canadians he painted.

Long before it became politically correct, JD Kelly featured multiculturalism in his works. That was the way he had always seen Canadian history.

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005