Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce

Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce
Unveiling the plaque to James Viscount Bryce at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast on Friday 10 May 2013

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Blue Plaque for Belfast Artist: 30 November 2012

A latish start and traffic conditions conspired to make me nearly late for the start of the ceremony to unveil the plaque to Frank McKelvey. Luckily I had five minutes to spare to set up the sound and recording equipment before the start. The people there included members of McKelvey's extended family, including some of his great-grandchildren, representatives of Belfast City Council and local historical and heritage Societies.

Frank McKelvey
Frank McKelvey
Frank McKelvey was born on 3 June 1895 at 11 Glenvale Street, Belfast. After attending Mayo Street National School, he became an apprentice lithographer and poster designer at Davis Allen & Sons. He then entered the Belfast College of Art, where in 1911- 12 he won the Sir Charles Brett Prize, and in 1913-14 the Fitzpatrick Prize, both for figure drawing from life.

Frank's father, William, was a painting contractor, and in his early years Frank worked from his father's premises on the Woodvale Road. He first exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1918 and his landscape painting won him immediate recognition in Dublin. He continued exhibiting at the R.H.A. every year for the next fifty-five years, showing from three to eight works each time.

McKelvey became a full-time painter of landscapes and portraits, opening his first studio at 142 Royal Avenue around 1919, next to that of artist J.W. Carey (1859-1937) and exhibiting mostly in Belfast, Dublin and Glasgow. His landscape paintings are typically of farm scenes in Co Armagh, the North Coast, and later in Co Donegal. Thomas McGowan commissioned him, together with other local artists, to paint pictures of old Belfast, and this collection is in the Ulster Museum. As a member of the RHA, he exhibited in Belfast, Dublin and Londonderry, and in 1936 had a one-man show where three of his landscapes were purchased as a wedding present for Queen Juliana of the Netherlands by Dutch people living in Ireland.

McKelvey also painted many portraits, amongst them the mathematician and physicist Sir Joseph Larmor; the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sir Martin Wallace; Sir William Whitla; the 3rd Duke of Abercorn and Professor Sir William Thomson. Thirteen of his large-scale portrait drawings of U.S. Presidents with Ulster lineage were presented to the Belfast Museum & Art Gallery in 1931. He also illustrated Margaret Holland's book My Winter of Content under Indian Skies.

His work can now be found in the Royal Collection at The Hague and in many places in Ireland including the Crawford Gallery, Cork; Queen's University, Belfast; the Ulster Museum and the Masonic Hall in Dublin. In London the National Maritime Museum houses one of his paintings depicting an Aran Island currach.

Frank McKelvey died on 30 June 1974 in Belfast.

The Unveiling

Chris Spurr
Welcoming the members of the McKelvey, Kennedy and Whiteside families, City Aldermen and Councillors and the others who were here to commemorate Frank McKelvey, Chris Spurr, Chairman of the ULster History Circle said that Frank McKelvey was born not too far away in Glenville Street. He spent his formative days on the Woodvale Road, where his father had a business on this very site. Here he developed his talent as an artist, achieving great acclaim throughout Ireland and beyond. His renowned ability as a painter of landscapes and portraits is acknowledged both by the many exhibitions during his lifetime, and by the number of distinguished persons who sat for him. First hand examples of his work are available in Belfast City Hall, Queen’s University, the Ulster Museum, and the Belfast Harbour Commissioners’ Office and, in these digital times, many of his public works can be seen on-line through the BBC’s Your Paintings webpages. Chris thanked Belfast City Council and the council’s Development Committee for funding today’s plaque, the Spectrum Centre for providing the refreshments afterwards and Mr Frank McAllister for allowing the plaque to be sited here.

Alderman Christopher Stalford said that as Chair of the Council's Development Committee he was delighted to support this and other initiatives throughout the City. In Belfast awareness of he positive impact that many Belfast people have had both here and in shaping the world was becoming increasingly recognised. It was therefore entirely appropriate to commemorate Frank McKelvey for the contribution he had made. He spoke about the view of art before McKelvey's time as 'art without roots' and said the McKelvey had helped to give it those roots, quoting from John Hewitt (another Belfast man). He thanked the Ulster History Circle and all those present for being here to commemorate Frank McKelvey.

Dr Brian Kennedy, Alderman William
Humphrey MLA, Cllr Naomi Thompson,
Frank McAllister (owner of 56 Woodstock
Road)and Alderman Christopher Stelford
Alderman William Humphrey MLA welcomed everyone to the Woodvale Road, 'The Heart of the Empire', to mark another Woodvale man in Frank McKelvey. McKelvey was world famous and a man to be proud of. He recalled that another famous Artist, William Conor, was born in 'The Hammer'. That tradition of producing notable personalities and talents continues with people such as Norman Whiteside and Wayne McCullough. Some years ago he had suggested to the Council that plaques be erected to the City's famous sons and daughters and he was pleased to see that this was being taken up in such a positive way. He thanked the Circle for erecting the plaque and Frank McAllister (another Shankill man) for allowing the plaque to be erected here.

Anne McKelvey and Trevor
Kennedy unveil the plaque

Dr Brian Kennedy (McKelvey's Biographer), spoke of the view in the early 1920s that Irish Artists should paint Irish subjects and how Humbert Craig, Paul Henry and Frank McKelvey (all three of them being Belfast men) had developed this genre Irish Landscape painting during the inter-war years.

McKelvey's daughter-in-law, Mrs Ann McKelvey and his nephew, Trevor Kennedy spoke briefly to give some reminiscences of the artist and to thank the Circle and the people of the Shankill for this tribute to him.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.