This major retrospective celebrates the extraordinary talent of Cumbrian artist Percy Kelly (1918-1993). For the first time major examples of Kelly’s  artistic output are brought together in a rich display of over 100 works, many of which have not been on public display before. The exhibition spans over 65 years from 1928 aged 9 up to his death aged 74 in 1993.

The exhibition charts every facet of Kelly’s artistic career. His love of the Cumbrian lakes, fells, coast, villages and industry captured in expressive charcoal and luminous watercolour. Dramatic linear panoramas, small intimate compositions, bold prints, exquisite calligraphy, beautifully illustrated prolific letters and sensitive flower studies. All on show in this unmissable tribute to one of Cumbria’s best-loved artists.

The exhibition is specially curated by Chris Wadsworth, leading expert on the life and work of Percy Kelly.

Upcoming events

Percy Kelly: An Afternoon of Talks

Sunday 21 January, 1pm until 5pm

Explore the extraordinary life and work of Cumbrian artist Percy Kelly at this afternoon of fascinating talks from Percy Kelly experts and enthusiasts.


Sign up to receive exclusive news on the Percy Kelly: Line of Beauty, A Retrospective exhibition and events programme here.

Percy Kelly (1918 - 1993) Biography

1918: Percy Kelly and twin brother John were born in Workington, Cumbria in 1918.  One of eight siblings.

1932 - 1939: Despite an early aptitude for drawing, Percy left school at 14 to work for the Post Office as a telegraph boy messenger in Kendal and Workington.

1939 - 1946: Interrupted by war, Kelly served in the The Royal Signal Regiment, where his talent for draughtsmanship was utilised in the production of maps.   Saw service overseas in France and Germany.

1942: Married Audrey James in Workington.

1946: Returned to Post Office employment in Workington and Cockermouth.

1947: Birth of son, Brian.

Early 1950s: Percy submitted works to the Royal Academy, Royal Institute and Royal Society of British Artists; all were accepted.

1958: Resigned from the post office and moved to Allonby on the Cumbrian coast.

1961 - 1965: Studied NND Lithography and Printed Textiles at Cumbria College of Art, Carlisle.

1964:  Awarded travel scholarship - visited to Brittany.

1966: First solo exhibition at the Rosehill Theatre, Whitehaven, courtesy of Sir Nicholas Sekers.

1968: Solo exhibition at Sekers’ showroom in Sloane Street.

1969: Solo exhibition at the Fermoy Gallery, Kings Lynn.

1971: His wife Audrey divorced him.

1971:  Meet his future wife, Christine Griffiths. Moved to Whitehaven.

1972: Moved to Levens Park Cottage and married Christine Griffiths.

1973: Moved to St David’s Pembrokeshire.

1976: Solo exhibition at Abbot Hall, Kendal, courtesy of Gallery Director,  Mary Burkett.

1980: Moved to Pear Tree Cottage, Rockland, Norfolk.

1982: Begins a correspondence with Joan David, a retired scientist living in Cumbria. She wrote to Kelly asking to buy a painting. In response she received the first of over 1000 illustrated letters.

1983: His wife, Christine, left him and applied for a divorce.

1984: Final exhibition organised by Joan David at Cringlemere, Troutbeck to pay debts after the divorce.

1993: From the moment Kelly could draw he did so obsessively until his death in hospital in Norwich.

1993 -   The art contents of Kelly’s Norfolk cottage arrived at Chris Wadsworth’s Cockermouth gallery - she assumed it was his complete life’s work, give or take a few pieces.

More collections began to appear.  Kelly’s first wife Audrey discovered 26 oil paintings when    clearing out her loft; his second wife Christine gave her collection to her children who added to them to the collection already being managed by the Castlegate House Gallery; and when    Joan David died her collection resulted in an exhibition and book in 2004.


Line of Beauty, is accompanied by a catalogue with an introduction by Chris Wadsworth, that explores the development of Percy Kelly’s work from the age of 9 to the end of his extraordinary life.

Several books relating to Percy Kelly, including 'The Man Who Couldn't Stop Drawing' are now available to purchase in the shop at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery.

Sign up to receive exclusive news on the Percy Kelly: Line of Beauty, A Retrospective exhibition and events programme here.


From: 23 rd September 2017, 12:00 am To: 28 th January 2018, 12:00 am Times may vary