Aloysius O'Kelly
Irish Landscape Artist, Genre-painter. Biography and Paintings.

An Interior, Brittany. 1935

Aloysius O'Kelly (1853-1941)

The Irish landscape artist, figurative painter and orientalist Aloysius O'Kelly was born in Dublin in 1853, He was the youngest of four boys and one girl. His mother's brother was John Lawlor, the London sculptor, and his cousin, Michael Lawlor, was also a sculptor. Two of Aloysius' brothers, Charles and Stephen O'kelly, also became artists. Another brother, James J O'Kelly became involved in Nationalist politics.

In 1874, he travelled to Paris and attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1874, where he studied painting and drawing under the French masters Bonnat and Gérôme. In 1876 he visited Brittany, joining several other artists of various nationalities in practising plein-air painting in order to capture the naturalism of its villages and fishing ports.

Head of a Breton. 1885
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Augustus Nicholas Burke RHA (1838-1891) was in the area around this time, although Roderic O'Conor would not arrive for another 20 years. In 1881, his brother James J. O'Kelly, was imprisoned in Dublin for his political activities. As a result, several of Aloysius' illustrations and paintings of the period reflected the drama of the political situation.

During the 1880s and early 1890s O'Kelly divided his time between Ireland, Europe and North Africa. He painted Irish rural scenes and landscapes, plein-air paintings in Brittany, and a range of Orientalist painting in Egypt.


The diversity of his art and painting styles make any classification extremely difficult. Some pictures were typical examples of 1880's Realism, others were plein-air scenes in the 'square-brush' style. He also executed a number of romantic Pre-Raphaelite-style works. His delicate 'impressionistic' harbour scenes contrasted with darker Flemish-style paintings. His oriental Egyptian paintings were some of his best work, revealing an understanding of the genre greater than Lavery, Garstin or Henry Jones Thaddeus, almost certainly due to his teacher Jean-Léon Gérôme who was one of the great Orientalist masters.

In 1895, he emigrated to America, settling in New York, where he painted many cityscapes and figurative scenes. As well as painting in oils he was also an active member of the New York Watercolour Club. By 1935 he was in Paris and died some time later, probably around 1941. Although largely overlooked as a top artist until recently, during his career Aloysius O'Kelly exhibited in London and at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in Dublin. He also showed in Paris and New York. His paintings can be found in several public and private collections, including the National Gallery of Ireland.

Most Expensive Painting by Aloysius O'Kelly

The record for a work by Aloysius O'Kelly was set in 2009, when the oil painting Expectation, West of Ireland was sold at James Adams, Dublin for €59,000.

See also: Plein-Air Painting in Ireland.

More Information About Visual Arts in Ireland

• For details of other painters and sculptors from Ireland, see: Irish Artists: Paintings and Biographies.
• For more about figurative painters like Aloysius O'Kelly, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For more about nineteenth century art, see: Homepage.

History of Irish Art
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