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Richard Barrett Talbot Kelly (1896-1971)


Richard Barrett Talbot Kelly (1896-1971)

R. B. Talbot Kelly (TK) is arguably one of the last centuries greatest and most sympathetic painters of birds - his paintings, masterpieces of delicacy and sensitive perception.

TK had a life long fascination with birds, and worked in a variety of media over a period of more than fifty years, watercolour, gauche, pencil, pen and ink, etchings and folded paper dimensional animals.

He was the master of what he called ‘realistic impressionism ’ where plumage detail is suggested but not painted in a meticulous manner. The setting of each bird is an impression - a memory captured - from life with an artist’s eye for composition.

Familiarity with his subjects, which included both insight and understanding, was the key to Talbot Kelly’s work. His ability to exclude what he knew to be the facts and concentrate on what he had seen puts his work into the highest category of bird painting.

Richard was the only son of the artist Robert Talbot Kelly and his wife, Lilias Fisher Kelly. He was born on 20 August 1896, in Birkenhead, Cheshire, and lived in Rochdale, Lancashire. He developed an early love of natural history while holidaying with his mother’s family in Scotland. And would later become an artist in his own right, particularly known for his paintings of birds.

He was educated at The Hall School in Hampstead later attending boarding school in Rottingdean, before finishing his education at Rugby School in Warwickshire, where he later became Director of Art in 1929.

TK saw service in both wars, and was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his service. At the same time, he began to exhibit his paintings of birds, becoming a recognised artistic talent in 1923, and being elected to the Royal Institute of Watercolour painters in 1925. During the 1930s Richard worked steadily on his artistic career.

He exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and the Paris Salon.
He painted posters for British Rail, London Underground, and London Transport. He was engaged as the design consultant for the Pavilion of Natural Science at the 1951 Festival of Britain. He was a founder-member, in 1964, of the Society of Wildlife Artists.

He also wrote and illustrated a number of books on British Birds

Richard continued to teach at Rugby until 1966, although during this time he also tried his hand at being a museum professional. He curated the Natural History room in Warwick Museum and the Natural History Gallery at the National History Museum of Uganda.

On his retirement from teaching, TK moved to Leicester and continued his heritage career, assisting the local museum with their Natural History collections. He died in June 1971

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October 17, 2019 5:20 pm

The painting you selected for this post is brilliant!

Clare Pooley
Clare Pooley
October 20, 2019 12:21 am

The painting is wonderful! With such a limited palette he has produced a picture of great energy.

Andrea Stephenson
October 21, 2019 7:07 pm

A fascinating history Clive. The painting is lovely, the birds have such character!

Colin Blundell
Colin Blundell
October 25, 2019 4:03 pm

Hi Clive!
I live a few hundred yards down the road from the ‘lighthouse’ where Peter Scott lived & worked till around 1945 I think it was when land was reclaimed and the sea stopped lapping round its base. We were good friends of the previous owner who did a lot of renovations to the place; we’ve stood in Peter Scott’s studio which looks out over the Wash. The extensive land round the ‘lighthouse’ (it looks like one but was never used as one – it was just built by the people who straightened out the Nene to use up the spare cash they’d made instead of sharing it out to the navvies) was home to many seabirds, regulars and migrators. Less so now since the place was taken over by a chap who wanted to commercialise the place but can’t afford to proceed. All this came into my mind when I saw RBT Kelly’s painting above.

We have climbed to the top of the ‘lighthouse’ – stunning views.

Somewhere in the house we’ve an original print of a Peter Scott painting. We’ve so much ‘stuff’ in the house!


December 14, 2019 3:27 pm