Cambodian Dancers by Sir Gerald Kelly (1937)

Sir Gerald Kelly Dancers 1937 7

In 1936, Irish painter Sir Gerald Kelly (1876-1972) visited Cambodia during a world tour with wife Lilian ("Jane"), and portrayed several dancers at the Dance Hall of Phnom Penh Royal Palace. If the costumes and body gestures are rendered with great mastery, these graceful Khmer dancers are still getting confused with Burmese ones in catalogs and art auctions worldwide, probably because the artist had visited Burma earlier, in 1908-1909, and developed his fascination for Southeast Asian classical dance.

A quick survey of Kelly's body-of-work on Internet shows that despite their characteristic outfits and features -- and the fact that the artist often gave the name of his models, such as "Neac Thul" (for Neak Thul), "Sem", "Sun" (for Saona) --, the Khmer dancers are wrongly depicted as "Burmese":


Two samples of erroneous titling (, screenshots)

Recently, a researcher from Myanmar (ex Burma), Tint Htoo Aung (တင့် ထူး အောင်), has corrected this common confusion by posting some of the photographs shown above under the header "Khmer dancers".

Gerald Kelly became indeed a famous portrait painter with his 1931 portrait of the Shawn Princess Sao Ohn Nyunt:


And he had spent several months in Rangoon two decades earlier, documenting the art of Burmese court dance. In this delicate and lively sketch, he pictured the "Yein", a group performance of young girls at the Royal Palace known as Nan Twin Ah Phyo Taw Yein:


Even if Sir Gerald's visit to Cambodia was briefer, his eye for details and his knowledge of Southeast Asian dance would have prevented him to confuse Cambodian dancers with Burmese ones. We can also note that his own style had evolved during these nearly thirty years:


Burmese dancer, c. 1909


Cambodian dancer, 1937

Tags: dance, dancers, Burma, Khmer dance, Burmese dance, paintings, British artists