Lot 82: Frank McKelvey RHA RUA (1895-1974) MILKING, circa
September 17, 2007
Ballsbridge, Dublin, Ireland
Description: Frank McKelvey RHA RUA (1895-1974) MILKING, circa 1919-20 signed lower left oil on canvas 46 by 55cm., 18 by 21.75in. Whilst chiefly remembered as a landscape painter, Frank McKelvey also excelled at figure painting, often combining the two genres to great effect. A realist painter at heart, McKelvey evidently derived great pleasure in depicting the quiet, daily occupations of the country people around him, primarily in Antrim and Donegal. At art school in Belfast he won numerous awards for figure drawing, including the Sir Charles Brett Prize (1912) and the Fitzpatrick Prize (1914). His study of an old woman, The Grandmother (now in the Ulster Museum, Belfast) was awarded ae10 at the Taylor Prize Competition in 1918. In the same year he began exhibiting at the RHA, showing three works including In Country Antrim and Summer, either of which could speculatively fit the present work (the apple-tree in Milking has borne fruit, suggesting the season is summer). Genre scenes predominated during McKelvey's early years. In 1919 he exhibited Companions at the RHA, a work which was almost certainly a depiction of two young girls with their pet rabbits, exhibited again some years later under the title The Good Companions and sold through these rooms in recent years (29 November 2005, lot 80). Both Milking and The Good Companions share many features in common, not least of which was that they were painted on canvases of the same size. The foreground in each is a verdant mass of grass swiftly painted with sloped brushstrokes. In contrast, the humans and animals are painted with far greater deliberation ' the dappled shadows carefully observed and the paint built up in multiple layers. In the distance of both compositions, a row of trees painted with thin blue-grey washes acts as a visual barrier, drawing the eye back to centre stage. There can be little doubt that the two works were painted, at most, within two or three years of the other. McKelvey frequently chose themes connected to small-scale farming and animal husban dry. In 1919 he exhibited a watercolour, Milking Time, at the Belfast Art Society, and the following year Feeding Time ' almost certainly a painting of a woman throwing grain to a flock of hens ' featured at that same venue and again at the RHA. Tending Her Goats, painted in the 1920s and sold through these rooms (21 February 2006, lot 87), likewise showed a woman with her small herd, which would have been kept for milk. Farming on such a modest scale would continue for several decades yet, before the introduction of milking machines and rotary milking sheds eliminated the need for twice-daily hand-milking.