64 Parishes

Felix Kelly

Artist Felix Kelly spent decades painting in the Deep South, often depicting themes of romanticized declining mansions and steamboats along the Mississippi River.

Felix Kelly

Courtesy of R. W. Norton Art Gallery.

"Death of a Sidewheeler" by Felix Kelly.

Felix Kelly’s romantic and surrealistic depictions of mansions, some in stages of overgrown decay, became his signature oeuvre. Writer Amanda Harling said that Kelly painted with “heartbreaking nostalgia.” In the 1960s and 1970s, Kelly painted in the Deep South, specializing in domestic architecture. His themes romanticized declining plantations along the Mississippi River, and they were painted in luminous tones—some with an imaginary steamboat, another of Kelly’s fascinations.

Like many of his paintings, “Death of a Sidewheeler” has what one art critic called “the spirit of something sinister and ghostlike.” Alongside the derelict and haunted “queen” of the river, Kelly includes a smaller snagboat bearing one of his recurring motifs of the candy stripes of its deck awning, a perversely cheerful note that surfaces even in his darkest paintings, inspiring yet another critic to suggest that he’d be a good illustrator for the works of Kafka.

Upon Kelly’s death, the British newspaper The Independent said, “the mystical, evocative ambiance which he bestowed upon these houses was enormously appealing.”