The R. W. Norton Art Gallery hosts the world’s largest publicly exhibited collection of Felix Kelly paintings. 23 works. Who is Felix Kelly? Some say he could have been a Picasso, but that his commissions from England’s’ aristocratic families ruined his bid for posterity. He became a master house portraitist, a somewhat obscure subgenre of landscape painting. In 1946, Herbert Read, England’s Modernist Kahuna described Kelly as painting “for the intimate world of people who surround themselves with private possessions rather than certificates of culture.”
Then again, he led a fascinating and full life. As well as easel paintings, his creative commissions included book jackets, set design, mural paintings, interior decoration and architectural follies. His client list is a name-dropper’s dream: Condé Nast, John Gielgud, the Old Vic, Cunard lines and Prince Charles among many others. His Castle Howard murals for the mini-series “Brideshead Revisited” (1981) remain a tourist attraction to this day.
Financial success gave Kelly the opportunity to travel (and collect Triumph sports cars). The story of how he befriended the Nortons, a Shreveport-based family who built a museum to house their art collection in 1966, must be a fascinating one. In 1972, The R. W. Norton Art Gallery held Kelly’s first one-man show in conjunction with the Holiday in Dixie celebration. The Norton’s Kelly collection has a conservative bent (i.e., nostalgia for the Old South), but that conservatism can be undermined by Kelly’s surrealistic tendencies. There is nothing quite like seeing a meticulous rendering of a plantation perched on a cliff edge or a capsized sidewheeler. In his best paintings, Kelly’s love of candy stripes doesn’t assuage that sense of precariousness. Playwright Enid Bangold wrote that Kelly painted “the unheard talk between one age and another.” Murmurs well worth experiencing.
Kelly’s paintings used to reside in the South Wing/Felix Kelly Gallery and the South Wing/Steuben Plates Gallery. Some works are in the process of being moved or have been moved. A list/description of Kelly’s paintings at The Norton is available. Have a Kelly scavenger hunt and in the process, enjoy the breadth of the museum’s collection.
The R.W. Norton Art Gallery
4747 Creswell Avenue
Shreveport, Louisiana 71106-1899
Hours: Tues–Fri, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sat & Sun, 1 p.m.– 5 p.m.
Closed Mondays and national holidays.