Sir Gerald Kelly

The Jester (W. Somerset Maugham)


Sir Gerald Kelly 1879–1972
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1016 × 762 mm
frame: 1213 × 961 × 113 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1933

Display caption

Somerset Maugham was enjoying his first success as a dramatist when his friend Kelly painted this costume portrait. It was not a commission, but was painted for exhibition and sale, with the reputation of Maugham as a bonus. Kelly had just taken smart rooms off Lowndes Square in Belgravia, and chose to emphasise the correct social poise of his sitter, wearing morning dress and grey top hat. The two men were the same age, were both Irish, and had been friends in Paris. Kelly painted Maugham many times through his life, often showing him in character: the title here refers to his famous wit. The portrait served as an advertisement for Kelly's practice, and contrasted with the bohemianism of his rivals William Orpen and Augustus John.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 40×30 (101·5×76).
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1933.
Exh: Modern Portrait Painters, R.I., 1912 (25); Contemporary British Art, Whitechapel Art Gallery, October–December 1929 (132); R.A., 1933 (378); R.A. Diploma Gallery, October–December 1957 (272).
Repr: Royal Academy Illustrated, 1933, p.77.

Painted in July 1911 at the artist's studio in 7 William Street. There were thirty to forty sittings. This was the third of many portraits of Somerset Maugham painted by Kelly. The first, which was destroyed, and the second were painted in 1907, soon after the two became friends. In ‘An 80th Birthday Tribute to Somerset Maugham’ (Sunday Times, 24 January 1954) Kelly wrote: ‘I first met Somerset Maugham in the garden of a villa which his elder brother had taken for the summer at Meudon. I was struck by the fact that his whole face was just one colour - very pale - and that his eyes were like little pieces of brown velvet - like monkey's eyes. I thought he looked very distinguished.’

For later portraits of Somerset Maugham (b. 1874, author and playwright) see Epstein, No.6132, and Sutherland, N06034. In the preface to the 1956 edition of The Magician, a novel which deals with artists, he described the reason for his move to Paris about 1904 and says that a few months before this he had made friends with Gerald Kelly. ‘It was he who first made me acquainted with the Impressionists, whose pictures had recently been accepted by the Luxembourg.’ In 1919 he published The Moon and Sixpence, based on the life of Gauguin.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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