New Jersey Remembered: A Seventy-fifth Anniversary; Philadelphia Collection 75; October 2005
Leon Kelly
Sailboat Race, Harvey Cedars, New Jersey
Watercolor on paper, 13 1/4 × 16 3/8 inches
Signed at lower left: “Leon Kelly”
Inscribed and dated at lower right: “Sailboat Race/Harvey Cedars.N.J./1953”

Leon Kelly was born in Perpignan in the French Pyrenees and brought to Philadelphia as an infant. He entered the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) in 1924. Afterwards he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where his most influential instructors were Earl Horter (1881–1940) and Arthur B. Carles (1882–1952). Their familiarity with French Fauvism and Cubism, as well as Horter’s own collection of avant-garde European art, exerted a considerable impact on Kelly. One art historian has opined that his paintings of the early 1920s “were among the most sophisticated versions of analytical Cubism to be produced in Philadelphia.”1

Kelly won the Pennsylvania Academy’s Cresson Traveling Fellowship in 1924 and went to Europe for six years, living in Paris and traveling throughout the continent and North Africa. Kelly’s interest in Cubism gradually subsided after he saw the Louvre’s collection of old master paintings. His first solo show was held at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 1925, followed by an exhibition at the Galerie du Printemps in Paris in 1926. Kelly was included at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Century of Progress exhibition in 1933, as well as in the annuals of the Whitney Museum in New York, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, and at the Pennsylvania Academy during the 1930s and ’40s. Kelly began to experiment with Surrealism around 1940. In 1965, his work was included in both a large survey of Surrealism at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a retrospective at the International Gallery in Baltimore. Kelly taught at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1966 to 1969, and died in 1982.

These paintings date from the 1950s, when Kelly lived in Philadelphia and owned a summer house on Long Beach Island. Harvey Cedars, on Long Beach Island, evolved into a summer art colony shortly before World War II, and was frequented by Horter, Boris Blai (1893–1985), Salvatore Pinto (1905–1966), his brother Angelo Raphael Pinto (1908–1994), the sculptor Alexander Portnoff (1887–1949), and others. A former resident recollected that “Harvey Cedars was full of summertime drunks. Everyone drank a lot; with the Pinto brothers they would go out to Sandy Island and get drunk, or get drunk and go sailing.”2 Despite extensive damage wrought by a hurricane in 1944, the area grew during the postwar years.


1. Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art [exh. cat.] (Philadelphia, Pa.: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), p. 572. See also Leon Kelly, American Surrealist [exh. cat.] (New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 1999).

2. Quoted in Innis Howe Shoemaker, Mad for Modernism: Earl Horter and His Collection [exh. cat.] (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1999), p. 42.

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