John Melville Kelly (1878-1962), a shy Irishman, arrived in Hawaii in 1923 from San Francisco, and even though he was an artist accomplished in several graphic techniques—most notably etching and aquatint—his collectibility was mainly established through the wonderful depictions of Hawaiian people. Kelly’s enchantment with the islands lead him to become an early advocate of the Hawaiian people and their rights. His favorite model, Marion, can be recognized in many of these menu covers, which themselves have become highly collectible items from an era when the spirit and romance of Hawaii readily anchored itself in the heart of the visitor with the docking of each luxury liner.

Although the critics of his time quickly compared him to Gauguin in his Tahitian period, time has favored Kelly kindly with a unique place in history as one of the early chroniclers of Hawaii and its people.
Warm reds and rich sepias do justice to an alluring people and lush tropical setting that enthrall us today as much as they must have those who traveled by steamship, afterward keeping Kelly’s honest depictions as treasures.

Several of the prints featured here are from a series of seven images done in the 1950’s as menu covers for the today still operational Royal Hawaiian Hotel (also known by the nickname 'Pink Hotel') in Waikiki.

See All John Kelly Images

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