J o h n = M e l v i l l e =K e l l y- - 1 8 7 9 - 1 9 6 2

Modernist Abstration,


“The best way of summing up the spring within the spring that made John Kelly labor relentlessly, and that raised him to etching eminence, is to quote from the catalog of the show the opening sentence written by John M. Kelly Jr., ‘Of all the things a man may love, his work, wife, family, country and fellow man, none can be truly his unless he loves life itself.' "
—Jean Charlot, review of John Kelly's retrospective exhibition held at the Honolulu Museum of Art shortly after Kelly died.


John Melville Kelly (1878-1962) is one of the most beloved American printmakers and painters of the Hawaiian people, landscape, and culture during the early to mid-20th century. Born in Oakland, California, Kelly's artistic talents blossomed as he pursued formal training at the California School of Design (now known as the San Francisco Art Institute) and later at the Art Students League of New York City. His early works primarily focused on landscapes and seascapes, reflecting his love for the coastal scenery of California.

Kelly traveled to Oahu with his wife, the sculptor Kate Kelly, in 1904, expecting to stay a year but like other artists in Hawaii during the first half of the twentieth century, they remained a lifetime. He found inspiration in the lush tropical landscapes, vibrant flora, and the rich cultural tapestry of the Hawaiian islands. Over the following decades, Kelly gained renown for his sensitive depictions of native Hawaiians as well as his dramatic renderings of the islands’ majestic volcanoes, cascading waterfalls, serene beaches, and bustling marketplaces. Captivated by the unique light and colors of Hawaii, Kelly's artistic style evolved, marked by bold brushwork, vivid colors, and a deep sense of emotional connection to his subjects.

Kelly played a pivotal role in fostering artistic expression in Hawaii, serving as a mentor to emerging artists and contributing to the establishment of the art institutions of Hawaii. His passion for preserving the cultural heritage of the islands led him to document traditional Hawaiian rituals, customs, and everyday life, ensuring that future generations would have a visual record of the islands' rich history. Kelly was one of the founding members of the Honolulu Printmakers in 1928. The organization honored him in 1934 and 1953 by selecting him to create the member gift print that accompanies their annual exhibition.

Throughout his prolific career, Kelly received numerous awards and accolades for his artistic achievements, including recognition from prestigious institutions such as the National Academy of Design and the California Society of Printmakers. His works were exhibited in prominent galleries and museums across the United States, garnering admiration from audiences worldwide. In 2005, the Honolulu Academy of Arts presented Hawaiian Idyll: The Prints of John Kelly, an extensive exhibition of the artist's work drawn from the Academy's preeminent collection of his prints.

The De Young Museum, Fogg Museum (Harvard), Hawaii State Art Museum, Honolulu Academy of Arts, National Gallery of Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Saint Joseph College Art Gallery (West Hartford, Connecticut), San Diego Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum are among the public collections holding work by John Melville Kelly.


California Redwoods- - c. 1920, Etching.

Edition not stated. Signed, titled and annotated NO 17 in pencil.

Image size 12 7/8 x 9 3/4 inches (327 x 248 mm); sheet size 14 1/4 x 11 3/8 inches (248 x 289 mm).

A fine, richly-inked impression, in brown-black ink, with selectively wiped plate tone and rich burr throughout, on cream wove paper; full margins (1/2 to 3/4 inch); in excellent condition. Scarce.


Mokihana (Hawaii)- - 1946, Drypoint.

Edition unknown. Signed, titled and annotated No 5 in pencil.

Image size 11 1/2 x 9 inches (292 x 229 mm); sheet size 13 7/8 x 10 7/8 inches (352 x 276 mm).

A superb, finely nuanced impression, in dark brown ink, on cream wove Japan paper, with margins (3/4 to 1 5/8 inches); toning in the margins from a previous mat; paper fiber in the center left margin, away from the image; otherwise in excellent condition.

Collections: National Gallery of Art, University of Hawaii Library.


Portrait, Nude, Hawaiian Native, Young Girl

Kanani (Hawaii)- - 1946, Drypoint.

Edition unknown. Signed, titled and annotated No 36 in pencil.

Image size 11 3/8 x 8 7/8 inches (289 x 225 mm); sheet size 18 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches (470 x 368 mm).

A superb, finely nuaunced impression, in dark brown ink, on heavy cream wove paper, with wide margins (2 3/4 to 3 3/4 inches); in excellent condition.


Portrait, Nude, Hawaiian Native, Young Girl