THE ROAD TO PHILAE, ASWAN
Signed & dated l.l. RTalbotKelly R.I. 1910
Titled verso in pencil
37 x 54 cm
Writing in 1902, Robert Talbot Kelly described Aswan as having “…always been the frontier town of Egypt proper; and at the time I speak of, though Wady Haifa was the headquarters of the frontier force, Mahdist bands disputed the intervening country and rendered it unsafe for travellers…its bazaars still contain weapons, and relics of the war, to remind us of that terrible time when regiment after regiment passed through its streets, only to be lost in the burning deserts to the south…” (1)
In his ‘Egypt Painted & Described’ (London, 1902), one of his most popular illustrated travel books, Kelly depicted a very similar view to the present work, titled ‘Cufic Cemetery at Assuan’ (see fourth image above, from p.114 of the 1902 edition). It was clearly a favourite spot of the artist’s and remained an important stop along the trade routes of the Nile at the beginning of the 20th century.
Robert G.T. Kelly was the son of the Irishman Robert George Kelly, a portraitist and landscape artist. Robert Jr. left school early to work for a cotton trader, at the same time receiving an artistic training from his father. During this time he exhibited under the name R.G. Kelly Jr.
The younger Kelly was inspired to quit his career and take up art professionally after a holiday onboard a cruise boat in the early 1880's. He travelled by boat to North Africa and, in 1883, settled in Cairo, swiftly becoming fluent in Arabic as well. Kelly spent a considerable amount of time with the Bedouin tribes of Egypt, whom he described and painted in Egypt Painted & Described (London, 1902). In the same year an exhibition of his Egyptian works was held at the Fine Art Society. He contributed illustrations to Major-General Sir Rudolf Carl von Slatin's enormously popular book, Fire and Swords in the Sudan (London, 1896), the distinguished former Governor of Sudan's sensational account of his time in office.
Kelly also travelled to Iceland and to Burma, on which he wrote two books Burma Painted and Described (London, 1905) and Burma (London, 1909). He maintained a home in Birkenhead and a studio in Liverpool and was president of the Liver Sketching Club. Sometime later he returned to London and moved to Hampstead. Alongside his more important artistic society memberships, Kelly was also a member of the British Colonial Society of Artists and the Royal Geographical Society (of which his early collaborator von Slatin was also a member).
Kelly's third son was the renowned ornithological artist Richard Barrett Talbot Kelly (1896-1971).
(1) Robert G.T. Kelly, Egypt Painted & Described, London (1902), pp.110-111