(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1901-1982)
Leon Kelly was born in 1901, the only child of Pantaleon and Elizabeth Kelly. As a child, Kelly was very close to his father. They spent a great deal of time together on a farm his father purchased in Yardley, Pennsylvania. Kelly was first exposed to art through his father who amassed a small collection of paintings and sculpture. In 1916, his father's business went bankrupt; ultimately leading to the dissolution of Kelly's parent's marriage. Throughout his life Kelly would regard his father warmly and blame much of the troubles of his childhood on his mother.
Kelly's love of art began as a child; he was an incessant drawer. As a teenager he studied with the local artist, Albert Jean Aldolphe and would later go on to study sculpture. He dabbled in printmaking, as well, working with Philadelphia illustrator, Earl Horter. In 1922, Kelly enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he met the controversial teacher and modernist, Arthur B. Carles. He was a dedicated student and was awarded the prestigious Cresson Traveling Fellowship, which allowed him to study art in Europe. Upon his arrival back in the United States, he was disappointed to find that Carles had been dismissed from the Academy, likely a result of his controversial teaching methods. He continued to work privately with Carles but longed to return to Europe. Carles was instrumental in allowing Kelly to continue his painting as he introduced him to a number of prospective patrons, including the collector Albert Barnes, who took a brief interest in the young artist's work. In a chance encounter, Kelly reconnected with his father who agreed to fund his son for two years abroad. He was successful in Paris, having exhibited at an array of galleries.
When he returned to the U.S., he exhibited at many galleries in New York and Philadelphia. In 1940 he began a relationship with Helen Lloyd, the ex-wife of Earl Horter, who introduced Kelly to Julian Levy. Kelly and Levy's relationship lasted for many years. Levy was a strong advocate of Kelly's work and campaigned tirelessly on his behalf, however the artist's work never received the acclaim that Levy so desperately believed it should. Kelly taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1961-1973.
In 1982 Kelly, living in isolation on an island off the coast of New Jersey, died at 81 years old.
Examples of the artist's work can be found at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.