Kelly Page 2e.6

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Road Building

As well as painting military scenes and figures, Kelly also painted the milestones in the building of Canada.

In a country that had been explored and settled by people occupying the easy land, along the waterways and lakes, the rigours of backwoods travel was left to the latecomers. The only way to get there was by cutting roads through the primaeval forest.

In the early 1800s road building began in earnest as more and more settlers were given land in the interior, away from the Great Lakes.

Among the earliest commercial trails were the bone-jolting corduroy roads, made by placing big logs side by side, over swampy and muddy bogs.

JD Kelly shows the construction, featuring the clean-cut, square-jawed, and well-dressed workmen that originally built Canada.

No slouchers here; Kelly has men in action in six planes of interest: prying duo, chaining up oxen, axeman, sawyers and carriers, mother cooking, oxen bringing more logs.

Road Building in 1850, JD Kelly
Orig. Artist's Personal Proof - Size - 38 x 47 cm
Found - Brampton, ON
Titled in JD Kelly's hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Simply Fabulous! Another fabulous personal proof print once owned by JD Kelly. Titled in his own unpretentious hand, and missing a cap for a title. But hey, we didn't say Kelly was perfect - only as good as it gets!

JD Kelly - 1862-1958 - 6

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Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Opening the First Welland Canal, JD Kelly
Orig. Artist's Personal Proof - Size - 38 x 47 cm
Found - Brampton, ON
Titled in JD Kelly's hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Simply Fabulous! One of JD Kelly's most famous prints - the opening of the Welland Canal - was issued for the Confederation Life series. This was the personal proof print used by JD to ensure quality control on the wide variety of colours he used on this complex and highly detailed composition.

The biggest obstacle to sea-going ships on the Great Lakes of Ontario, had always been the Niagara River and Falls which connected Lakes Erie and Ontario.

The First Welland Canal was built from 1824-1829 by William Merritt, to bypass the Falls and rapids and create a direct ship route for goods which previously had to be transshipped by wagons on a portage route. Large ships could now sail from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the end of the Great Lakes.

JD Kelly's glorious picture for a grand occasion included rich detail, like the action vignette of the crew throwing the line to the canal worker.

And as was his custom JD did painstaking research to make sure that the costumes for all the figures were completely correct for the 1820s. Note the variety of headgear JD displayed.

And Kelly, who obviously liked people - ordinary folks, cast in heroic roles, were often the focus of his paintings - did not forget children as participants in history.

Amid the men - Scots and French-Canadians with their sashes - pompositing about their great achievement, Kelly included a young boy racing through the crowd to share in the excitement of watching the ship cross from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The First Harvest in Canada, JD Kelly 1897
Orig. litho - Size - 43 x 61 cms
Found - Dundas, ON
Supplement to the Toronto Saturday Night Christmas 1897

Simply Fabulous! No one has ever painted a finer Canadian farm scene than this compositional joy by JD Kelly.

JD's fabulous design, and use of colour, in a picture that exudes personal warmth from both man and beast presents us with an artistic tour de force that would be folly for another artist to match, let alone, surpass..

It is a huge, eye-boggling 41 x 51 cms, and was designed to be framed and put into Canadian parlours.

All a Group of Seven painter needed was oils, a brush, and a stool - though not necessarily in that order - and he was set to paint...

Not so JD, or the other members of the Fab Five of Canada's famous front line historical painters (Art Hider, Arthur Heming, CW Jefferys, Owen Staples). Long before they could even contemplate putting brush to canvas they had to do research - enormous amounts of research - to make sure the picture was historically correct. And when one painted multiple planes of interest, like Kelly preferred, the task ahead was mind-boggling...

Where could JD find an ox to paint in Toronto? How do the horns look? The cloven hooves? The body posture? The yoke?

And how were sheaves tied up in the old days? And what about the baby's clothes, the shape of the woman's bonnet, and her apron?

Not to mention the homestead, which is full of unique features: the construction of the house, the barn, the well, the root cellar in between... One gets weary just contemplating all the research work that JD had to do before he could draw, then paint a single figure, a single cultural feature, a single animal, or building...

Wouldn't it have been a whole lot easier to just join the Group of Seven, get a stool and sit in front of a hill and paint, than stress yourself out with the endless research workload - which commonly burdened the Fab Five - and read yourself silly on musty old books and talk to boring old timers? And then having to cross check everything so no one could find fault with the shape of the yoke.

Spot the Yoke! Stung by such criticism, fellow Canadian painter Riopelle (Jean Paul Riopelle, 1923-2002) saw the light early on; "Pas de recherche pour moi," apparently he was heard to mutter one day.

Thereafter he was determined that no one would accuse him, ever again, of painting the yoke wrong!

The yoke, as his paintings (example right) made clear, was on them!

Can you tell if he got the yoke right?

We apologize for playing a trick on you. We didn't show his whole canvas, only a small part of it. Can you tell which part is missing? The left side, or right? The bottom or the top? Perhaps you can't see the yoke because it is in one of the missing sections...

Such a kidder... Riopelle.

PS. But please don't feel bad. Even such elite art actions like Joyner's of Toronto, Ontario, haven't got the yoke right, on occasion. At one of its feature auctions, staff brought out one of these Riopelle type paintings and displayed it upside down, much to the merriment of the audience - using the catalogue pics as reference - until the yoke was corrected.

But even that is no guarantee! On another occasion the Joyner catalogue - which cost 50 bucks - had the artwork printed upside down!

But then hey, they're Art Salesmen not Art Hider or Art Heming!

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Canada After Sixty Years, JD Kelly 1897
Orig. litho - Size - 43 x 61 cm
Found - Dundas, ON
Supplement to the Toronto Saturday Night Christmas 1897

More is Better: JD Kelly is one of the very few Canadian artists for whom it can be said, more is better.

Are people really learning something new from seeing another AY Jackson? Another FS Coburn team? Do we really need to see another Riopelle?

But JD surprises us completely with an entirely new painting that captivates and charms us all over again, every time we discover a new one of his compositions.

And far from the simplistic compositional minimalism of the Group of Seven, JD fills his painting with multiple planes of interest. To him, and to his legions of fans, more was always better. More pictures; and more pictorial elements within each painting.

Not just a simple Trisha Romance decorative piece, featuring a couple of old folks, this work breathes activity in multiple planes of interest that lead you into the life on a Canadian farm a century ago: the woman coring apples, the contemplative patriarch who put it all together, the hen and chickens, the grandson playing with dogs, the daughter off with her beau and a prancing team, the barnyard horse and cows, the geese going for a walk, a son unloading hay into the loft, the village in the fields beyond.

Kelly - unlike the Group artists - clearly liked people, and was able to outperform Trisha Romance at her best when he wanted to. Even she couldn't put this much human compassion into her paintings.

In contrast the Group - probably just to escape criticism that they didn't know how - detailed Fred Varley to do the portraiture for them. His morose, dreary, and unlikable faces showed he didn't really relish the task - or people in general - all that much either.

No insurance company, bank, or publisher, who wanted positive publicity, would even consider putting a Group portrait on a calendar or print. And no newspaper would issue them as supplements and expect to sell extra copies, instead of cancelled subscriptions.

Both Kelly's spectacular prints were lovingly issued as Supplements to the Toronto Saturday Night's Christmas Edition for the festive season in 1897.

The two superlative chromolithographs Canada After Sixty Years and The First Harvest in Canada, found a cherished place in thousands of homes across Canada, and a hundred years later, can still be found turning up at antique shows and auctions. Good for another hundred years, for a whole new generation that connects warmly to JD Kelly's vision of Canada and Canadians.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The Caribou Trail

JD Kelly's images were popular right across Canada as this giant 1939 calendar from Fort Frances, Ontario, makes clear.

Automobiles were just getting out of the square box look into boxy curves, and were now powered by the V8, in Fords, supposedly "The Canadian Car."

Ford probably bought rights for the master from JD Kelly and then sent them across the country where dealers printed up their own ads and tacked on the calendar for 1939, the year World War II started.

The transportation motif - of the hard way the Gold Rush hopefuls had to pole up rapids of wilderness rivers in British Columbia in the days before there were roads - seemed a subliminal message, "If only they had a Ford, like you are fortunate to be able to drive - and own."

What a difference 40 years makes...

This calendar was never used, after January was ripped away. Probably somebody wanted Kelly's picture.

Below, two 1939 Fords, which feature the long discontinued "scoop" door, which, since it opened from the front, would pick you up and drag you along, if someone inadvertently took off while you were getting out.

On the Old Caribou Trail, JD Kelly
Orig. calendar - Size - 48 x 89 cm
Found - Aberfoyle, ON
Prov - JD Kelly friend collection
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Montreal Powerhouse Port

Simply Fabulous! Two of JD's personal artist's proofs - one with a key to the buildings and facilities - celebrate Canada's biggest city in 1935, and the most important.

Bursting with activity, with ships bringing passengers and goods into the heart of Canada, is the spot, where in 1642, Mr. Newhouse began a settlement at the foot of Mount Royal. Better make that Sieur de Maisonneuve.

And right in the middle, left over from an earlier age, are the towers of Notre Dame Church, were Céline Dion married her manager, watched over by Philippe Hébert's stunning statue of Maisonneuve in the square.

As this artist's proof makes clear, JD was no hide-bound historical painter; he could paint powerful images of modern scenes with equal authority.

He could paint - with obvious relish - Canadian urban heritage subjects, which Group of Seven painters only sniffed at with disdain.

Their vision, as painters, was decidedly limited, mostly to empty landscapes with cultural features reduced to mere accents.

They sought out painting places where their brain could idle in neutral; they were painting for therapy, as an escape from the world that JD embraced with an artistic enthusiasm that we feel when we look at this action scenic.

Montreal never looked so good, so busy, or ever would again.

From his research notes, which he pinned to the bottom of his print, we can sense that JD loved to exercise his brain as much as his brush; the two were inseparable.

It is what sets JD Kelly apart - and above - the Group of Seven..

Montreal Harbor 1935, JD Kelly
Orig. Personal Artist's Proof - Size - 30 x 40 cm
Found - Aberfoyle, ON
Titled in JD Kelly's hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Simply Fabulous! Titled in JD's own hand, below an image of the CPR's Duchess of Bedford, off for another run across the Atlantic.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Port Arthur Ontario, JD Kelly
Orig. Personal Artist's Proof - Size - 32 x 42 cm
Found - Aberfoyle, ON
Titled in JD Kelly's hand, Original printer registration marks, Prov - JD Kelly friend collection

Simply Fabulous! Titled in JD's own hand this picture, celebrating the bustling shipping commerce of Canada's biggest wheat transshipment port in the country, must have thrilled the City Fathers of Port Arthur when it appeared.

The city at the head of Lake Superior, named after Queen Victoria's son - who would later become Governor-General of Canada (1911-16) - lost its historic name when it amalgamated with Fort William, in 1970 to become Thunder Bay. The older name was resurrected from French maps of the 18th century which called the nearby bay, Baie du Tonnerre.

JD shows the lakers coming to and from the many grain elevators which received the wheat by train from the western prairie farms of Canada.

Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005