Sir Gerald Festus Kelly (1879-1972):
Nan Twin Ah Phyo Taw Yein, Singing, 1909
Framed (ref: 1287)
Oil on canvas,
‘Kelly’s Burmese dancers have a strange impenetrability, their gestures are enigmatic and yet significant, they are charming, and yet there is so mething curiously hieratic in their manner; with a sure instinct, and with a more definite feeling for decoration than is possible in a portrait, Mr Kelly has given us the character of the East as we of our generation see it (William Somerset Maugham,‘A Student of Character: Gerald Festus Kelly’, International Studio, December 1914).
This large study depicts a synchronised dance group, or Yein. The performance known as Nan Twin Ah Phyo Taw Yein (literally ‘synchronised dance group of young girls performing at the palace’) would typically have been presented to the British Governor or other high-ranking officials, and Kelly may well have seen such a performance whilst living at the house of the District Judge during his seminal six-month stay in Mandalay from 1908 to 1909. The elaborate headdresses signify that the girls are unmarried.This remarkable study remained in the artist’s studio until the artist’s death in 1972, at which point they were inherited by the painter John Napper, Kelly’s studio assistant.
The 1957 Kelly exhibition held at the Royal Academy included a painting on the same theme titled Yein Pwe: Pagan, which is recorded as having been started in 1912 and thereafter worked upon on numerous occasions.We are grateful to Robert Thornhill, Nanda Heinn and Nance and Ko Aung for their assistance.