Art Words

Art Words : Dorothy Kirkwood, Kelly Gallery origins

Childhood excursions usually involve seaside trips and visits to the park, but for Dorothy Kirkwood, daughter of the founder of the RGI Kelly Gallery, one of her most enduring memories is accompanying her father on his search for a suitable site to house the Burrell Collection.

Given that Dorothy’s father was John Donald (Jack) Kelly CBE, who as City Treasurer of Glasgow Corporation (1949-1952), was instrumental in bringing Dali’s Christ of St John on the Cross to Glasgow, it is not surprising that she grew up in such an public spirited and culturally rich environment.

“My father was a chartered accountant but was always interested in promoting cultural pursuits and the arts,” explained Dorothy during a recent visit to the gallery which bears JD Kelly’s name. “He was the son of Sir Thomas Kelly who was Lord Provost of Glasgow, and from 1935 my father represented the Kelvinside ward.

“It was in his role as city treasurer that my father persuaded Glasgow council to spend £8000 on the purchase of Dali painting. He was also convener of the corporation special committee on the housing of the Burrell Collection, and I remember as a youngster going round Dougalston in Milngavie with to find a suitable place for the Burrell.”

JD Kelly was a man whose public service was described as a combination of business leadership, coupled with a high sense of citizenship and a love of the arts. He was awarded the CBE in 1953, and five years later when he became the seventh winner of the £1000 St Mungo Prize awarded to the person doing most good for the city, he expressed a wish that the money should be used to promote art.

It was as RGI President that ‘Gentleman John’ spurred on the development of the Institute in 1965 with his generous gift of the JD Kelly Gallery in Douglas Street. At a time when such spaces were rare and oversubscribed, he wanted to encourage individual artists by giving them the opportunity to mount small exhibitions.

“I remember being with him at the opening of the gallery with what seemed like the entire art world in attendance,” recalls Dorothy. “My father wanted to encourage young artists and help set them on the road which he is why he particularly wanted a small gallery.

“The great thing is that it is not just for famous artists, but new graduates and emerging talent. This gallery was one of the first of its kind and inspired on a lot of people to do the same thing. My father was always very proud of the Kelly and enjoyed his visits to the gallery.”

As well as his association with various philanthropic and charitable bodies JD Kelly was also a member of the Scottish Committee of the Arts Council and director of what was then known at the SNO Ltd.

“Until they built a lovely house in Killearn in 1961, my father and mother Christina lived in the west end of Glasgow. The first painting he bought was one by Leslie Hunter for which I believe he paid £100, and that was the start of him building up a collection of the work of Scottish Colourists.

“As my father’s eyesight was quite poor, it was somehow appropriate that he liked the Scottish Colourists because of their vibrant colours; he certainly passed on his love of art to me.

“He was Chairman of the governors of the Glasgow School of Art when he died at the age of 71 in 1969. I often wondered how he found any free time as he did so much, and even wrote and adapted plays for the BBC.”

JD Kelly did not live to see the fulfillment of his dream of the housing of the Burrell Collection, but it was partly to due to his vision and commitment that Glasgow has become the city of culture it is today.

With new curator Lynne MacKenzie, the Kelly Gallery continues to be a regular drop-in destination for art lovers, and it seems fitting that his only daughter should be one of the many who enjoy the regular exhibitions, talks and events.

Article by writer Heather MacLeod

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