Portrait of an Artist

Detail of photograph of O'Kelly highlighting his shirt and tie
Part of the Irish Archives

Aloysius O'Kelly

Aloysius O'Kelly, painter and illustrator, was born in Dublin in 1853. At the age of 25, he went to Paris and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. He was one of the first Irish artists to study there as well as one of the first to paint in the new realist mode in the West of Ireland. During this time in the West, he painted Mass in a Connemara CabinIn 1884, O’Kelly travelled to Sudan to work for Pictorial World, a British illustrated newspaper. Continuing his travels, O’Kelly painted orientalist scenes in other regions of Africa including Cairo and Morocco.

In 1895, O’Kelly emigrated to New York City, where his nephew James Herbert lived. The above monochrome studio photograph of O'Kelly was taken in New York around 1900. An inscription at the base of the three quarter length portrait reads 'Sincerely yours, Aloysius O'Kelly'.

O’Kelly returned to Ireland in 1926 after a lengthy absence, aged 73. Until recently, little was known about the later period of the artist's life. However, a collection of letters sent to his nephew document time spent by O’Kelly in Cashel, County Tipperary and Dublin in 1926, Concarneau (France) in 1927, and New York from 1928 onwards. In a letter dated 29 January 1929, O’Kelly describes the damp weather in Dublin and the poor prospects of finding buyers in the city. He also notes the rebuilding of fine buildings in Dublin that were damaged in the civil war.


Mary Clare O'Brien, HW Wilson Fellow

Published online: 2022