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Lot 158: Frank McKelvey RHA RUA (1895-1974)Feeding the Hens - A Woman and Child by a Thatched CottageOil on canvas, 51 x 66cm (20 x 26'')SignedThe setting for McKelvey’s paintings on this subject is generally one of two locations; the Maze, County Down wh

Important Irish Art 7th December 2016

by Adam's

December 7, 2016

Dublin 2, Dublin, Ireland

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Frank McKelvey (1895-1974) Please Register/Login to access your Invaluable Alerts

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  • Frank McKelvey RHA RUA (1895-1974)Feeding the Hens - A Woman and Child by a Thatched CottageOil on canvas, 51 x 66cm (20 x 26'')SignedThe setting for McKelvey’s paintings on this subject is generally one of two locations; the Maze, County Down wh
  • Frank McKelvey RHA RUA (1895-1974)Feeding the Hens - A Woman and Child by a Thatched CottageOil on canvas, 51 x 66cm (20 x 26'')SignedThe setting for McKelvey’s paintings on this subject is generally one of two locations; the Maze, County Down wh
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Description: Frank McKelvey RHA RUA (1895-1974)Feeding the Hens - A Woman and Child by a Thatched CottageOil on canvas, 51 x 66cm (20 x 26'')SignedThe setting for McKelvey’s paintings on this subject is generally one of two locations; the Maze, County Down where McKelvey settled with his wife in 1924 or it could be the home of his wife’s parents in Bessbrook, County Armagh. Regardless of setting it is clear that the artist, as a city-dweller by birth and upbringing, has great affection for the country and sees this rural context as an idyllic subject for his painting. The farmyard was regularly featured in McKelvey’s work for over forty years. Although this was a frequently painted scene, the compositions never lost their freshness or vitality in the repetition. During the twenties, the artist composed a number of scenes, within which a woman, often accompanied by a child, would scatter feed to waiting chickens. Examples include; ‘Feeding Chickens’ 1922, ‘Feeding the Chickens’ late 1920s, ‘The Back of the House’, ‘Farmyard, Co. Antrim’ c1950-3 and ‘Bridget’s Hens’ 1968. At the Maze, the couple kept a large flock of hens and these often appeared in the artist’s work. (McKelvey later wrote) ‘“It was through this opportunity that I was able to study poultry in all effects of sunlight - a subject in which I have always been deeply interested.” As I have written previously when describing ‘Farmyard Scene’ and equally valid here; ‘The young girl, in her white dress connects visually to the white chickens within the flock, providing a narrative thread to lead the eye to the centre of the work, to the buildings and the trees. It is impressionistic in style, with the artist’s characteristic level of detail. He has a measured, yet apt approach to representing a scene, clearly evident here. The palette is warm, bright, and summery. The sun highlights essential elements of the composition and pools strategically on the ground’.This is a delightful painting by the artist. It is more intimate and personal than some of his other works on this subject. This is due to the placement of the figures in the foreground and due to the woman’s acknowledgement of the artist in her gaze. The child also, although thoroughly involved in the act of feeding the gathering chickens, is in an engaging stance scattering seeds. The chickens are carefully detailed and there is a range of white, brown and black poultry. Some stand waiting, some stoop and some eat. McKelvey shows himself to be a master of his medium and subject. His composition is carefully and characteristically composed on three planes; foreground, middle ground and background. He includes an ideal quantity of detail. Employing a classic landscape strategy inspired by both Claude Lorrain and Nicholas Poussin, entitled ‘coulisse’, McKelvey flanks his composition in the middle ground with trees, defining the space distinctly within and heightening the narrative. The foreground is the darkest part of the composition and the area under the tree behind the figures. This is balanced by the shrubbery and rocks opposite. The whitewashed thatched cottages look idyllic and inviting in their simplicity. The painting’s definitive triumph is the play of light over the composition in its entirety. Dappled light filters through the leaves of the tree on the left and hits the gable of the cottage where the effect on the whitewash is captured in swathes of white impasto. It also hits the back of the stooping child, highlighting white smock and blond hair. Marianne O'Kane Boal, November 2016

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