THE VIEW FROM THE TOP Percy Kelly at The Beacon Whitehaven.

Date Posted: 18th January 2023

Whitehaven Harbour looking North
Interior Sekers silk Mill

What a week this is – it’s all coming together nicely. Everything is dropping into place and more mysteries keep popping up to be debated and/or solved.

This is an exhibition you shouldn’t miss. The Kelly Retrospective in 2017/18 at Tullie House was magnificent and massive in every way but this one is different - it gains from its limitations. It focuses mainly on work he did in the 60’s in a specific area – Copeland - which holds it all together in this much more intimate space. There is a lot to see and a few more mysteries are unfolding as the paintings and drawings hit the wall.  The birds eye view down onto Whitehaven harbour from the 4th floor Light and Dark gallery in the Beacon is surreal when you can also see Kelly’s brilliant interpretation of it.  I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The view north along the coast with Parton, then Lowca pit poking their noses out looking along towards Maryport (another of his favourite places) and see the little train hugging the coast. You feel you can get into the head of the artist. You can stand in front of his beautiful drawing of St James’ church on the hill and then pick it out among the tangle of houses which the human eye or camera does not edit. But in the drawing Kelly has edited it for us. Compare the Whitehaven panorama with reality and marvel at his foreshortening, his considered omissions. Only the important bits are there. Where is the Loop Road? It was there when Kelly drew it but wasn’t necessary. It doesn’t add anything to that breathtaking view. The skill is in what he leaves out.

The exhibition opens on Saturday so you can experience it for yourself. Tony Calvin chair of the friends of the museum and an avid Percy Kelly fan will be taking groups on the Percy Kelly trail every Sunday during the exhibition 11.30 – 1.30 (you must book)  and he will also be in the gallery every Tuesday  1-3pm Bringing the exhibition to Life. I will be in the gallery every Saturday  1.00 – 3.00 telling the stories behind the paintings and bringing them to life too. I will also give you the answers to the questions I posed in the last newsletter when we stand in front of a collection of paintings that haven’t been seen in any gallery or exhibition for more than Sixty years, if ever, as it was a private commission. We can tell you where they have been hiding. There are still more out there waiting to be found. Maybe you can help us find the others. (Miki Sekers allegedly bought 11 and we now have found 6. I bought the ones Kelly didn’t sell to Miki from his son Brian in 1993 and have kept them in a dark drawer all these years. There is an article about them in February’s Cumbria Life Magazine which is out for distribution this week.

We have also had fun displaying letters and artefacts relevant to the show – a letter to Kelly from Anthony Armstrong Jones (Princess Margaret’s husband) ; A telegram from the Cunard Company about his paintings for the state rooms of the QEII for the launch in 1969; his old pipe lovingly restored and his baccy tin with the firecrest he painted on the lid. A concertina letter and a diorama  to a sick friend of Joan David is there. Watch and listen to the man himself talking about his work at various stages of his life in a 16 minute video.

You will need to spend quite a lot of time to cover everything. Admission is £7 and jolly good value in my book but an even better bargain is the annual ticket at £18 (£14 for over 60s) because you will want to come again and again.  And when Kelly is over (sob) Verrocchio’s Tobias and the Angel will come up from the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square in March. There is always something going on at the Beacon so you may as well take advantage. £ 14 or £18 for 12 months is a bargain.#


You will find The Beacon on the quay at the South side of the harbour. It shines out like a lighthouse.

The exhibition is in The Dark and Light gallery from which you can enjoy a panoramic view of the harbour alongside Kelly’s paintings and drawings of the spectacular view.

 Open daily Tuesday – Sunday   10am – 4.30pm (closed Mondays)


Percy Kelly’s Whitehaven Sundays 11.30 am  – 1.30pm ( Tony Calvin)


 Tuesdays 1pm – 3.00pm (Tony Calvin)

 Saturdays 1pm – 3.00pm (Chris Wadsworth)

telephone 01946 592302 

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