Date Posted: 1st July 2023

Waterlily Pond   50 x 75cm

Apologies for the radio silence.  The last 2 months have been hectic in many ways with new writing, several new project options and a You Tube to sort out as well as family and social happenings and of course the usual  continuing battle in the garden with rabbits, deer, pheasants and now persistent mice.

This is a painting of a waterlily pond by Percy Kelly which has come directly from the Percy Kelly Estate. Although Kelly is best known for his clear linear style in his drawings of villages, bridges, cottages and long disappearing roads, he loved to draw plants and flowers. At the art college he spent a lot of time in the greenhouse studying the structure and making drawings of plants  –  freely drawn teazles, grasses and thistles were among his favourites from which he made etchings and lithographs. His magnificent watercolour – Birthday Flowers – was the painting that drew my first overnight queue to the front doorstep of Castlegate House in the nineties. A couple from Preston ‘bribed’ their daughter and boy friend to camp on the doorstep overnight to keep their place until they took over next morning. It was really hard for me to put the red sold spot on it as I wanted it for myself but that was early days in the gallery’s life and I had to sell it to keep the gallery going but I never forgot that image. I tried to borrow it for the 17/18 retrospective at Tullie House but was unable to trace the owners.  In 2020 I was delighted to see it come up for auction at Mitchells and I bought it against some strong competition. It nourishes me every day. I won’t let it go again.

Much of PK’s work is about line and perspective with a visually satisfying balance. His industrial drawings are geometric. His flower paintings on the other hand are wondrously free and colourful. He loved Poppies, Irises, Sunflowers, Foxgloves, Harebells.  They seem to unlock the romance in his work.  This large painting of a Lily pond– reminiscent of the work of Georgia O’Keefe - is almost abstract, emotional and  dare I suggest erotic.

I still have the postcard photograph of Paxton’s giant waterlily at  Chatsworth House with a little girl standing on one of the massive floating leaves. As a child I had a big attraction to water (I was always falling in either by accident or design). How I wished to be that child!  Chatsworth House was closed down and strictly out of bounds of course as it was requisitioned during the war. My dad , a Sheffield steel worker was a very keen gardener who  had 3 allotments which kept us fed through the 1940/45 war. He left school at 14 but he later achieved a batch of horticultural qualifications  through the Workers’ Educational Association  (WEA) and  became a full time gardener on the Isle of Wight in his late forties. At weekends mum, Dad and I would escape the yellow smog of the East end of Sheffield and cycle out into the Peak district; me on the back of their tandem and then on my own bike. One day dad walked us round the perimeter wall of Chatsworth’s extensive grounds to find a way in (he’d been studying  books from the library). A long way up the hill he found a collapsed dry stone wall and we clambered over and began tentatively looking for Paxton’s lily house.  On our 4th trespass we got closer to the glasshouses only to be discovered by the only gardener left as the younger men had joined up for the war. We anticipated trouble but he welcomed the company but broke the sad news that the iron greenhouse that housed the giant lily had been demolished for the war effort but he invited us to come in any time in a more conventional way – saying he would  get the wall repaired but leave the door to the kitchen garden unlocked every Saturday.  So I never fulfilled my ambition to stand on a water lily leaf (which  offered a very good opportunity to fall in!)

You will find Waterlily Pond in Works for Sale on the Kelly web site alongside a few smaller pieces that I’ve just added. In the meantime I’ll get on with my You Tube about 2 artists who are linked but were born 300 years apart in different countries. It could take me some time but it’s a good story.