Percy Kelly (1918-1993)

Percy Kelly

Written by David A Cross

Occupation: Artist

The Cumbrian Kellys have patrilineal origins at Peel, on the west coast of the Isle of Man, but Robert Percy Kelly was born on 3 November 1918 in Workington.  He was the son of Oscar Kelly [1884-1973], a Manx carpenter who, after his apprenticeship with Kissacks, in Marown, had crossed the Irish sea in c.1905 to Workington to be employed making pit props for the mines.   Oscar’s father John Kelly [1851-1922], dubbed ‘the lion’, was a lead miner whose wife Sarah Quirk [1846-1911] had inherited Ballacoyne Farm at Abbeylands, near Douglas.  John and Sarah had ten children, so several others left the island to settle in Canada and America; the Workington Kellys, however, occasionally visited their Manx relatives.  After a few years in West Cumberland, Oscar met Martha Smith [1888-1955], from Dalry, Ayrshire and married her at St Michael’s parish church, Workington on 19 August 1908. Martha had cornflower blue eyes, a gentle personality and was much loved by many people; she tended to favour her most gifted son but his siblings remarkably lacked resentment. 

Oscar and Martha had seven children, of whom Percy and his brother John Arthur [1918-2011] were fraternal twins. The other siblings were Sally [b.1909], Muriel [b.1910], Hugh [1915-1975], Douglas [b.1924] and Kenneth [b.1926].  Following the death of Martha’s aunt Eleanor Gray, they all lived at 113, Corporation Rd. Workington, a house owned by Eleanor’s widower Hugh, a furnace keeper.  Martha was a Methodist and Oscar a member of the Plymouth Brethren, so the children were induced to hold high moral standards.  Oscar’s considerable craftsmanship led Percy and his siblings to learn extensive  manual skills; Percy thought of his father whenever he drove in a nail. 

To Percy, drawing was as natural as walking and he was said to have been able to draw even before he could talk. Family and neighbours praised his skills from early childhood but his father was understandably cross when he sketched on the flyleaf of a book.  He attended Victoria Road primary school and then the Central Secondary School until he was fourteen.  During this period he was an enthusiastic sketcher and painter and excelled in calligraphy.  In his early teenage years he enjoyed playing with friends in the dockland area of Workington, watching cranes and steam engines and capturing stark studies of winding gear and chimneys.  His uncle Walter, in Douglas, had an elegant vintage motor and later on Percy was lucky enough himself to run a fragile little MG called George, which appears in several letters.  

Gradually he explored the coastal environment and cycled inland where he discovered the beauties of the lakes and fells, having a particular love of Loweswater. He was certainly able enough to have continued at school but his father insisted on employment and so Percy joined Workington Post Office, initially as a telegraph boy.  Following  a single private lesson with the established artist Albert Rosser [1899-1995], it became clear that Percy had natural ability and that such tuition could teach him nothing.  Soon after this, in a GPO handwriting competition he was voted the ‘best in the country’.  Percy was a keen footballer, cricketer, fell runner and a member of the Marron Cycling Club.  In the mid-1930s he was transferred to Kendal Post Office, as a qualified telegraph officer and he soon joined the newly formed Kendal Artists, exhibiting with them until 1939.  His early work mostly depicts churches and other buildings with very pale washes of colour.

Upon the outbreak of war in 1939 Percy signed up with the 6th battalion Border Regiment where a posting to London in GHQ home forces allowed him to explore galleries and discover more about contemporary art.  In February 1940 he was transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals, where his drawing skills were used in map making and he was involved with the Golden Arrow mobile telegraph stations.  Being a good conversationalist, in his wartime social life he tended to mix with middle class officers and civilians such as Arthur Norris, the art master at Repton.  He was hugely upset at the death in Burma of his friend Anthony Paige, an artistic young officer with whom he had exchanged illustrated letters.  After putting out a fire, he was introduced to Air Marshalls Arthur Tedder and Charles Portal who offered to give him impeccable references after the war.  He also encountered Winston Churchill in the  Cabinet War Rooms at Whitehall and met George VI at the National Gallery during an exhibition of soldiers’ work.  

In January 1943, returning to Cumberland on leave, he married Elizabeth Audrey James [1922-2020] in Cockermouth, whom he had known from his younger days.  She was the daughter of John James and Ada Souter, her father having moved from Swansea to install a new Seimans furnace at Workington.  Ordered to France after D Day on 27 June 1944, Percy managed to paint amidst war conditions having officers who were sympathetic to his talent.   One surviving work is Bombed church, Caen, 1945.  Ending the war with peerless discharge papers, which could have led to other things, he was demobbed in 1946 and returned to the GPO at Workington.  His only child Brian Kelly [1946-2000] was christened with four initials: Brian Richard A. Kelly, a reflection perhaps of Percy’s aspirant tendencies.  

From 1952 he became the postmaster at Great Broughton but Audrey did most of the work as Percy frequently went out painting.  Meeting Sydney Buckley [1899- 1982] in Cartmel, who had been working on a panorama of the village with a challenging imaginary overhead viewpoint, he was encouraged to exhibit with the Lake Artists.  In 1955 at the Maryport Settlement, he met the poet Norman Nicholson [1914-1987], already an established figure having published his third collection of verse A Potted Geranium the year before.  They became good friends and corresponded until 1984.  Percy wrote that in his view ‘a true artist whether figurative or abstract has to has to be part poet’ [Cross, 2007 p.8].  They shared interests in both the environment and in industrial dereliction, sharing the dismal stories of closure, asset stripping, vandalism and demolition,  with Percy producing elegiac works like Millom Ironworks [Abbot Hall Gallery]. Like Nicholson, he was very determined to show that great work can arise on the Cumberland coast from Barrow to the Solway and that ‘beauty can be found in the most unexpected of places’ [Cross 2011, p.15]. 

Elected to the Lake Artists in 1956, Percy had exhibited twenty works at Grasmere by the time he resigned in 1963.  He signed his works PK, with his initials in capitals following William Heaton Cooper’s WHC.  After a breakdown in 1957, his doctor said that he needed to paint full time, so the couple moved to Glen Cottage, Allonby in 1958.  This was a place he knew well from childhood, as his father had moved and rebuilt the timbers of the old Blennerhasset cricket pavilion on the coast there, for weekends and holidays.  Here Percy supplemented his income with signwriting, joinery and coffin plates.  At this time he experimented with printing, using a 19thc Starwheel press.  

Audrey detested turpentine, so Percy continued to paint in watercolours and was invited in the late 1950s to teach at the Holiday Sketching Group run by Eric Hiller [1893-1965] and Charles Breaker [1906-1985] at Gerwick Field Studio in Newlyn.  Breaker, who had been born in Windermere, and had travelled with Hiller to Spain, Morocco and South Africa, was an enthusiast known for his exotic knitwear.  In 1958 Percy began his potent series of large charcoal landscape drawings, rather dark in mood, spread over ten years to 1968.  In contrast, his crisply delineated cottage interiors were influenced after 1959 by the aesthetic of the art patron Helen Sutherland [1881-1965] and her friend Jim Ede, of Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.  Introduced to Helen by Norman Nicholson, he travelled to Cockley Moor by motor scooter, being overwhelmed with joy to meet her and to examine her eclectic collection, including work by Matisse, Mondrian, John Piper, Ivon Hitchens and Ben Nicholson.  He noted that she kept a Picasso in a cupboard, as she did not really like it so much. Here he also encountered the superb calligraphy of David Jones [1895-1974] which influenced his slender multi-coloured capitalised lettering.

Following Helen’s encouragement, Percy attended Carlisle Art College as a mature student, from 1961-65, following NDD courses in printmaking and textiles, and creating a range of linocuts, screen prints, etchings and lithographs.  His eclectic subjects eventually included an owl, ravens, exotic fish, teazles, thistles, steam engines, cars and boats and Percy found that pulling a good print could reduce him to tears.  He raised the money by part time employment at Dovenby psychiatric hospital and from commissions for scraperboard images illustrating an edition about Lakeland pubs.  By this date he had already had work accepted by the Royal Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Glasgow Institute.  Commended by Tennant Moon, the founding principal, for having raised the standard of printing at the college, he was awarded a distinction.  In 1964, he was granted a travel scholarship which took him to Brittany and Normandy and led to paintings of vernacular architecture such as Breton Cottages and screen prints like Beach Huts, Normandy.  Following this, he taught briefly at Derwent School, Cockermouth and Nelson Thomlinson School, Wigton but decided to devote the rest of his life to painting.  A 1964 review in Cumbria magazine refers to his paintings but states that the artist himself is not well known.  

Another encounter was with the writer Molly Lefebure [1919-2013], famous for her exploration of opium addiction and Coleridge in A Bondage of Opium [1974].  They enjoyed conversation at her home Low High Snab in the Newlands Valley and at Allonby.  Then in 1965 he met Bill Hamilton, the chief designer at Sekers Silk Mills at Hensingham, near Whitehaven and later Sir Miki Sekers [1910-1972] himself.  A Hungarian, with great flair and energy, famous for making high quality silk fabric popular with couturiers, Sekers commissioned Percy to capture the process and bought eleven of the resulting works. Hamilton and his wife Kitty then exhibited Percy’s work at their house at Rheda, Cleator Moor, where he was interviewed by Valerie Milburn Rickerby [1925-2020], a journalist on the Whitehaven News. There followed exhibitions at Sekers’ Rosehill Theatre in 1966 and in his glittering London showroom in Sloane Square in 1968, during which Sir Miki presented a painting to Princess Margaret.  Next Lady Fermoy [1908-1993], grandmother of the Princess of Wales and a former professional pianist, founder of the Kings Lynn Festival, exhibited Percy’s work in 1969, though he showed some reluctance to sell.  On these occasions he dressed up to his role, in crisp shirts and bright colours.

Helen Kapp [1901-1978], the imaginative founding director of Abbot Hall art gallery, corresponded with Percy in 1967 about a possible exhibition there, but she retired later that year.  Percy continued to communicate with her successor, Mary Burkett [1924-2014], from January 1968 and visited her in her house above Windermere. They had a long correspondence sustained by mutual interests in art, ornithology, botany, vernacular architecture.  The exhibition took eight years to realise, hampered by Percy’s vacillation, but was eventually funded in 1976 by the philanthropist Peter Scott [1917-2010], the chairman of the Provincial Insurance Company and founder of the eponymous gallery at Lancaster University.  

During the 1960s he worked on the compositions of several large linear panoramic townscapes.  These are controlled geometrical works demonstrating powerful self-conviction and are of historical significance as many of the buildings have been demolished since Percy drew them.  His instinct for identifying such future architectural losses very much echoes that of John Ruskin. The panoramas Whitehaven Harbour from the Fan House, Maryport from the Settlement and Parton looking North, show coastal communities which were suffering industrial decline. Despite his nostalgia for the boom times in industry, he shows his sensitivity to the layers of historical development in these towns and hints at a love for the strange aesthetic of dereliction.  They are among his best work and may have been influenced by the austere linearity of the work of Robert Henderson Blythe [1919-1970], encountered in exhibitions in Scotland. In addition to the panoramas, he worked on studies of the docks at Workington and Barrow and blast furnaces in Millom.

One of his favourite churches in Cumbria was Back Brow methodist church, Maryport, with its squat hexagonal tower, built dramatically on the cliff above the harbour in 1864.  This building was adjacent to precipitous steps, topped by distinctive cast iron posts, which LS Lowry [1887-1976] ‘discovered’ before visiting Glen Cottage.  Percy was deeply scathing of Lowry’s temerity in assuming that he was unfamiliar with this picturesque element of Maryport, a town he knew intimately.  He had met Lowry several times via Sheila Fell [1931-1979], but he ‘disliked his inflated ego’ and unreasonably believed that the older artist had stolen his ideas [undated letter to Joan David].  There are several versions of this chapel, mostly in blue but one is washed in a startling red, perhaps reflecting Percy’s shock that it had been torched and then demolished c.1973.  Unusually, in St David’s, he struggled with the form of the cathedral, as it was built in a hollow and the offset elements of the tower were tricky to catch.  His Welsh non-conformist chapels are more convincing. In Norfolk his favourite church was Old Buckenham, with its flinty octagonal tower and thatched roof.  Such vernacular architecture was a passion and he enthused in his letters about the cottages, barns and bridges he encountered in his explorations of both Pembrokeshire and Norfolk. He loved observing the variety and savoured the process of drawing of the different traditions, materials and designs he experienced in his three rural counties.  In his letters he expresses his hatred of the horrors perpetrated by wealthy second home owners, insensitive to vernacular detail, who frequently sterilised the landscape. He celebrated the related observations and campaigns of Sir John Betjeman [1906-1984] and admired the traditional hand work of the craftsmen, as he had the skilled men in industry. Percy was also keen on Victorian terraces, if enhanced by the topography, as at Trumpet Terrace, Cleator Moor, Crosby Villa, near Aspatria and the isolated brick built junction at Pica, near Moresby.  He produced a good number of precise town and village compositions including Cockermouth, St Bees, Caldbeck, Plumbland, Greysouthern and Bowness on Solway, in which he loved to be able to include a bridge.  

Though renowned for his industrial images, Percy also loved the topography of Loweswater and Crummock and enjoyed the vistas around Buttermere, Lorton and the Newlands valley.  In Norfolk, he painted for Mary Burkett, from memory, a drawing of The River Derwent, Isel church and Skiddaw, after she had inherited the Isel estate.  Frequently, he conjured a well-lit cottage, like White Cottage, Lorton among the fells and his unusual motif of a road rising up through the middle of the composition was used numerous times.  Periodically, he employed the vertical of a telegraph pole as a strengthening motif, this having the added resonance for him of his first employment.

Among his watercolours are numerous natural history subjects, including well-observed botanical studies of snowdrops, wild daffodils, iris, foxgloves, poppies, roses and sunflowers.  Teazels and cow’s parsley appear in crisply delineated prints, contrasting greatly with his loose and spontaneous floral watercolours. His close familiarity with successive rural environments also led him to make critical observations of denuded meadows, bees poisoned by insecticides and shocking levels of hedgerow losses, particularly in Norfolk.  Insects, including butterflies, occur less often but his series of staghorn beetles is one of his most impressive.  Mutual ornithological interests arose, particularly in his letters to Norman Nicholson, where he shared sightings of species from wrens to buzzards, with delight. Among his letter illustrations are appealing robins and lapwings, contrasted with his sinister lithograph of ravens.  The Isel geese and goslings made an appearance and he enthused about the exquisite markings on yellowhammer eggs. His sensitivity was not confined to vision and he recorded hearing the sounds of woodpeckers echoing off the fell, Melbreak.

In 1971, Michael Macliammoir [1899-1978], the British born Irish actor, dramatist and painter who had met Percy at the London exhibition, bought two works.  Later, writing to thank him for his ‘incredible epistle’, expressed admiration for his genius, chirpily adding ‘for which I will never forgive you’ [Cross 2011, p.10].  Katherine Whitehorn [b.1928] the journalist, bought a steam engine drawing and other work was purchased by John Tovey [1933-2018], the restaurateur of Miller Howe restaurant and Professor Bill Whelan, the biochemist.  While at Allonby, he also met the professional photographer Clive Coote and assisted him in locating industrial subjects on the west coast.  Coote’s subsequent books Remains of a Revolution [1975] and The Past at Work [1980] resulted from their collaboration.  

 Having had eye problems, Percy consulted the ophthalmologist Paul Griffith and met his artistic wife Chris [1931-2009].   Subsequently, he left Allonby, divorced Audrey and married Chris in July 1971.  Audrey then married Robert Park and lived in Cockermouth. Regrettably, these events resulted in Percy’s estrangement from his son Brian, who was gifted with skills in engineering.    Chris had three school-aged children: Kim, Andrew and Nicola and Percy enjoyed their lively company.  Initially living at a cottage at Levens Hall, thanks to Robin Bagot, they moved to St David’s in south Wales in 1973.  Here they bought two dilapidated cottages in Gospel Lane with the assistance of Peter Scott.  The buildings were not a good choice and the huge restoration effort required for the cottage and the nearby workshop prevented Percy from getting on with his painting.  His skills with stone and wood enabled him to do much of the restoration himself but it was a slow business. Chris did her share of the heavy work with breeze blocks and cement and much to the dismay of their neighbours, they scavenged building timber and fuel from the local tip.  In this self-imposed exile they both felt the pull of Cumberland and despite the early joys of the new relationship, the transition to Wales proved to be traumatic.  Percy later said that leaving Allonby was artistic suicide, a classic example of Kelly hyperbole.  

However, he did manage to explore the hinterland and particularly loved Abereiddy, Strumble Head and the Preseli Hills.  Having reconnoitred a harbour, like Fishguard, he would select particularly interesting fishing boats, paying attention to registration codes, even inventing the eccentric ‘PK’.  Even here he experienced periods of intense creativity, followed by flat periods of despair and it seems that the two landscapes of Cumberland and Wales collided in his imagination and made it more difficult for him to paint. He did make etchings on a new press from Gallon’s but the damp of St David’s affected his output. Though self-absorbed and selfish he was generous with the now established pattern of writing illustrated letters, though he usually complained in them about his poverty, his health and his problems with neighbours.  It was certainly not easy to live on a building site. Several people offered to help but he usually declined.  He was offered exhibitions by St. George’s Gallery, King’s Lynn; the Palgrave Gallery, Suffolk; the Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham and Crane Kalman Gallery, London but refused them all.  Geoffrey Green of Tib Lane Gallery, Manchester made the expedition to Wales, announced: ‘you put Lowry in the shade’ but returned empty handed.  

However, new friends and contacts including David and Gail Lloyd of the Warpool hotel; Lady Daphne Grierson [1904-1994], widow of Major Kenneth Grierson; Laura Webb, an artist; Elizabeth Beasley, a writer of guide books; Yvonne Milner, a London dress designer who lived in nearby Solva and Vanya Howell, the cathedral librarian, all managed to negotiate purchases.  He sought out Welsh artists himself, including Ray Cori at Boncath and then John Cleal of Workshop Wales in Fishguard. Neighbours invited them to supper but Percy would sometimes leave after twenty minutes, which was difficult for Chris. Herald Goddard [1915-2007] chairman of the furniture polish company and his wife Jean commissioned a large painting for his daughter Hermione in Athens, so life was not entirely a struggle and a team from BBC West filmed a programme which was duly broadcast.

Following a huge effort, Percy managed to establish his own beautiful small gallery which opened on 1 September 1975 in the cottage itself.  Vanya Howell sat in it to absorb the ‘wonderful atmosphere’, but it was too late in the season and being rather away from the centre had a low footfall.  Impatiently, he closed the gallery after a few weeks, an example of his violently fluctuating resolve.  He clearly should have waited until Easter the following year, but by that time the space was cluttered and disordered once again. Chris was extremely disappointed but she managed to sell some of her own attractive knitwear in other outlets.  Looking back at Wales c.1990 he wrote to Joan David that ‘the best way travel in Wales is by broomstick’.  Later this year he was visited by Alan Freer and Douglas Cleverdon [1903-1987], a radio producer and a publisher of Eric Gill engravings, who commissioned him to letter some poetry.  Despite these acknowledgements, creeping upon him was a sense that his work was dated.  

After eight years of negotiation and delay, the Abbot Hall exhibition took place in the summer of 1976.  Despite his later grumbles, Percy received a significant cheque from Mary Burkett afterwards.  Merete Bates’ review in the Guardian was very positive referring to his sincerity, drive and ‘fire of inspiration’[Cross, 2011, p.16].  Following this exhibition, Peter Scott commissioned a Kendal panorama for his board room.  Here too Percy met Lord Eccles [1904-1999], minister for the arts, who was enthralled by his magical work and bought several paintings.  Eight years later, Percy contributed to the 80th birthday book put together by Eccles’s family. In the later 1970s, Percy’s disillusionment with critics and philistines and his annoyance at the complacency of the affluent bourgeoisie became somewhat overwhelming.  His painfully achieved Sekers paintings went under the hammer and he snorted with derision. He even contemplated suicide in 1979 but in reality, many of his problems stemmed from his own fluctuating moods and intransigence and not the people against whom he inveighed.

So seeking for a change, they explored Norfolk, where he had a few contacts, including the architect Tony Maufe, who assisted during their house hunting and also bought paintings.  Cumberland [by then, Cumbria] was deemed to be too expensive.  They found properties they really liked nearer the coast but they were too expensive.  Eventually, in 1980, they moved to Pear Tree Cottage, Rockland St Peter, near Attleborough where they hoped the dry climate would be better both for his printing and his health.  Mary Burkett had also introduced them to David and Jacky Ralli, who farmed at nearby Hardingham Hall who were to become important friends.  In Norfolk he did create some more expansive field compositions, as he had in Wales with Cornfield near St David’s but most of his hopes were not realised. Once again Percy was sought out by film makers in 1981, this time for Anglia TV, who broadcast the programme in 1983, including delightful footage of him sketching during an outing in George.

The change was also not enough to salvage their relationship and Chris left him in March 1983, using the ruse of a visit to her son Andrew at Brighton.  Now living a largely solitary life at Pear Tree cottage, his depression increased and he was close to another breakdown.  Occasionally he would summon the energy to paint a new subject but generally he turned to his illustrated correspondence to channel his need to draw every day.  Mary encouraged him by post but his demands as a correspondent soon became extreme and she introduced him by letter to Joan David [1920-2000] who became the chief recipient of an immense collection of letters into which he poured his creative energy during the last ten lonely years of his life.  Joan was a freshwater biologist who in later life became a significant collector, fired by her powerful sense of beauty.  She would often receive a ten page letter twice or three times a week, with generous enclosures of drawings and small paintings but found this spate of correspondence almost impossible to deal with.  Staunchly, she persisted, dispensing advice with sympathy and having a strong sense of privilege at the responsibility she had accepted. Re-cycled designs from Percy’s lifetime collection of unsold work accumulated, each enhanced with his fine handwriting. They became a major vector of his reputation and the texts, comprising part diary and part autobiography, have become a valuable resource.  His sense of his importance as an artist lent him an arrogance in his writing which many found intolerable but he benefited tremendously from this lifeline.  Percy was aware how many of these productions had been framed by their recipients. His humour and imagination lightens some of the text: once sending Joan ‘a jugful of kisses’. Not good at responding to interests of his correspondents he always expected them to read every detail of his trials. Conscious of his lack of education, he often scattered French expressions, quotations from Nietzsche or slightly heavy handed references to Latin authors. 

The process of his second divorce was predictably deeply unsettling and Percy experienced considerable angst regarding being forced to give Chris her share of his assets.  So Joan negotiated an exhibition at Cringlemire, the home of David Mustow, a retired officer of the Marines, and his wife Rosemary in Holbeck Lane, Windermere in September 1984, which was commercially successful.  A final settlement led to the divorce in 1984, after which Christine married Michael Mills and lived near Oswestry until her premature death in 2009.

Percy’s isolation, depression and hypochondria made life more challenging.  He also experienced gender dysphoria and had engaged in cross dressing from 1965, a tendency which became more important to him in Norfolk.  Eventually in 1985 he changed name to Roberta by deed poll, latterly signing his letters - Roberta.  To his great relief, several friends including Mary, Joan and Heather Jackson, the wife of a local vet, were sympathetic and accepting of his decision and he spent longer periods dressed as a woman.  Heather was also a reliable prop, taking Percy to visit his psychiatrist ‘Dr Olive’. Ena Hurrell [1929-1998], a local molecatcher, became a new friend in this period, though she had no idea that he was actually a man.  A link between Percy and Ena was that her father had been the postmaster at Snetterton.

In this last decade Percy mourned the works he had sold, experiencing a creative bereavement.  Like JMW Turner he had retained many of his best paintings for posterity and believed that collectively they were rare and precious.  Following this thinking, he offered to give his best work to Abbot Hall but changed his mind, which was a great pity now most of his best work is widely dispersed.  After years of being rather hypochondriac, he began to have trouble swallowing and was eventually diagnosed with throat cancer.  Two months in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital followed, when he was generously supported by David Ralli, who was with him when he died on 3rd July 1993.   Percy was cremated in Norfolk and his ashes were scattered by his son Brian at Lanthwaite Green, near Crummock Water.  Though he had spoken about writing a will, one was never found and so Brian inherited the cottage and many boxes of paintings, by default.  This collection was held in safety by David Ralli in a dry barn near Thetford, until Brian decided to sell the work via Chris Wadsworth at Castlegate Gallery, Cockermouth.  Several popular exhibitions ran there from 1994-2003 which brought Percy’s son an unexpected windfall.  Brian died in Wigton only seven years after his father in August 2000.

Despite Percy’s material problems and personal struggles, he acknowledged the privilege of his artistic life and stressed the importance of ‘love, affection, integrity and humility’ [Cross 2007, p.10].  He knew what he had achieved, was confident in his own greatness and knew that collectors would continue to value his work.  Percy’s paintings and illustrated letters are now valued all over the world, in major collections and in thousands of homes: the very immortality he knew he deserved.  His astonishing breath of achievement was manifest in a fitting centenary exhibition at Tullie House exhibition in 2018-19.


  • Merete Bates, Review of the Percy Kelly exhibition, Abbot Hall, The Guardian, 18 Aug 1976
  • Joan E. David, Obituary Percy Kelly, Quarto, The Journal of Abbot Hall, October 1993
  • Val Corbett, A Rhythm, a Rite and Ceremony: Helen Sutherland at Cockley Moor, 1996
  • Mary E. Burkett and Valerie M. Rickerby, A Cumbrian Artist, 1997
  • Chris Wadsworth, The Painted Letters of Percy Kelly to Joan David, 2004
  • David A. Cross, Cumbrian Brothers: The Letters of Percy Kelly to Norman Nicholson, 2007
  • Chris Wadsworth, The Man who Couldn’t Stop Drawing, 2011
  • David A. Cross, Dear Mary Love Percy: The Letters of Percy Kelly to Mary Birkett, 2011
  • Chris Wadsworth, Percy Kelly, Line of Beauty: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue Tullie House, Carlisle, 2017
  • Births, marriages and death records via
  • Census 1911 via
  • Conversations with Joan David, John and Rene Kelly, Audrey [Kelly] Park and neighbours at St David’s and Rockland, St Peter 
  • Correspondence with Kelly cousins in the Isle of Man