Percy Kelly: Scene and Unseen

Theatre by the Lake to host world premiere public screening of unseen Percy Kelly film as part of an extraordinary exhibition
Abbi Varey
February 11, 2024

Previously unseen footage showing the works of acclaimed West Cumbrian artist Percy Kelly will be screened as part of a special exhibition in aid of Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake this Spring. Running in the theatre’s gallery from 30 March – 20 April, Percy Kelly: Scene and Unseen will also showcase more than 50 paintings, drawings and original prints direct from Percy Kelly’s estate, including further never before seen works. All works in the exhibition will be on sale.

In Spring 2023 Chris Wadsworth, the founder of Cockermouth's Catlegate House Gallery and representative of the Percy Kelly estate, received a mysterious email asking if she would be interested in a film and a letter from an artist called Percy Kelly addressed to a gallery owner in Paris. Chris replied with caution; Percy died 30 years ago leaving nothing about ever being in Paris. The correspondent had not been able to watch the 8mm cinefilm footage, but the letter, signed and dated 1964, proved to be genuine.

What followed is an astonishing tale, which is still unfolding today.

Concarneau, Brittany - July 1954. Percy Kelly
Concarneau, Brittany - July 1954. Percy Kelly

The world premiere public screening of the 8mm footage will take place in the theatre’s Studio on Saturday 13 April, including an introduction and Q&A with Chris Wadsworth, giving you the opportunity to learn more about Percy Kelly and the story behind this latest discovery. There will also be a special guest who was present when the film was made.  

Sales of exhibited works in the Theatre Gallery include paintings, drawings and a collection of prints made by Percy Kelly, as well as limited editions of etchings created from Kelly’s original plates. Sales will be open to the public throughout the exhibition, with proceeds donated to the theatre.

Chris Wadsworth said: “I love a mystery. Since Percy Kelly’s death 30 years ago there has been a long succession of revelations and surprises. The Kelly story just keeps on giving. It is pure drama. I opened Castlegate House as a gallery in 1987 and have supported the theatre from the days of the Blue Box to the beautiful building it is today and acknowledge its valuable contribution to the Arts and to the community. The theatre is still recovering from the devastation of covid and I am thrilled to be able to bring the drama of the Kelly story and the exhibition of his unique works as a fundraiser for our wonderful theatre.  It is so exciting. I never know what will happen next! But something always does!”

Workington Station. Percy Kelly
Workington Station. Percy Kelly

Liz Stevenson, Artistic Director of Theatre by the Lake, said: “Theatre by the Lake is dedicated to celebrating Cumbria and telling Cumbrian stories and so we are extremely proud to have the opportunity to exhibit the works of Percy Kelly here at the theatre. It is an honour for us to host the world premiere of the 8mm footage, the story of which is an exciting, international Cumbrian story in itself, that I’m excited to learn more about as it is shared with our audiences.  

“We are so very grateful to Chris and her team for exhibiting this important work with us, and for her generosity and support for the theatre and arts in Cumbria.”

Percy Kelly: Scene and Unseen is a special exhibition by arrangement with Chris Wadsworth for the benefit of Cumbria Theatre Trust, trading under the name Theatre by the Lake. The exhibition will run from 30 March – 20 April at Theatre by the Lake, with a world premiere public screening on Saturday 13 April at 7pm. Entry to the exhibition is free.

Tickets to the film screening are £17.50 (£12 for Access tickets) and can be booked from Theatre by the Lake online HERE, by phoning 071687 74411 or in person at the theatre’s Box Office.

Sales of exhibited works will open in person on Saturday 30 March and online on Tuesday 2 April. Proceeds from sales will be donated to Cumbria Theatre Trust.

An exhibition showing the works of L S Lowry, Percy Kelly, Geoffrey Bennett and Sheila Fell also takes place at The Beacon Museum, Whitehaven until 14 April. The newly reopened Shipping Brow Gallery at Maryport have a permanent display of Percy Kelly and William Mitchell. A combination of exhibitions offers art lovers the perfect opportunity to make a Cumbrian tour of Northern artists this Spring.