The Kelton Collection: Indigenous Art at Leonard Joel
When hearing a collector’s story, we can often take for granted the intricate decision making and refined focus that is required to retain the integrity of their collection. This level of care and consideration is even more impressive when combined with genuine passion and enthusiasm.
Collected over four decades by the late Mr. Richard Kelton (1929-2019), the Kelton Collection is arguably one of the most important private collections of Aboriginal Australian art. Richard Kelton was an indefatigable collector, and his seemingly idiosyncratic collection is best understood through his principal preoccupations: sailing, water and the Pacific Ocean. Other pillars of his collection include art of the China Trade, Paul Gauguin’s Tahiti paintings and sculptures, Oceanic art and artifacts, maritime art and instruments, and the California plein air artists. Through this lens, these objects, subjects and histories interact in dynamic and provocative ways.
Richard Kelton first encountered Aboriginal art in 1979 when he joined a scientific expeditionary sailing trip to Australia. Subsequently, he began acquiring select paintings from Papunya Tula, and sculpture from Western Arnhem and the Tiwi Islands, and so began a lifelong passion for Australian Indigenous art.
Over the next four decades, Kelton’s interest in and appreciation of Aboriginal artists and art saw his collection grow to over 1,500 works, all housed in his Marina del Rey residence in California. His frequent trips to Australia guaranteed access to some of the best quality works available at the time. Richard Kelton was an early advocate for Aboriginal art to be shown in museums within the same curatorial and academic context as other modern and contemporary art. He staged the first exhibition from his collection in 1980, ‘Past and Present Art of the Australian Aborigines’ at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California. In 1982, The Kelton Foundation was established to facilitate the exhibition, loan, and research of his collection, lending works to international museum shows, including the Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri Retrospective mounted by the Art Gallery of South Australia and ‘Papunya Tula: Genius and Genesis’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In total, there were 14 stand-alone exhibitions of his collection, during which Richard would delight in delivering a personal lecture. To have these works exhibited together outside of Australia was rarity enough, but to have a collector so dedicated to the appreciation and recognition of these artists in public alignment was even more so.
The Kelton Collection traces the arc of the 20th Century Aboriginal art movement from the Hermannsburg watercolour painters of the 1950s, to the artists of Arnhem Land and the Tiwi Islands of the 1960s and 70s, collected retrospectively. Artists of the East Kimberley were collected contemporaneously and his fascination with the painters of the Western and Central Deserts from the 1970s onwards is evidenced by his attention to the artists of Papunya, Balgo, and Yuendumu. Richard Kelton collected artists and movements in depth in order to understand where they came from and their relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds that sustained them.
The Kelton family are thrilled to be returning these works to Australia, and Leonard Joel are honoured to be presenting one of the most important collections of Aboriginal Art at auction in April 2022.
OLIVIA FULLER / Head of Fine Art
MIRIAM GRUNDY / Collection Manager, The Kelton Collection
Banner Image: PANSY NAPANGARDI (born c.1940) Kungka Kutjara (Two women) at Winpirri Rockhole 1991, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 135 x 90cm. $4,000 – 6,000