He attended Cambridge, where he met Aleister Crowley. Together they planned to publish a magazine, but they never did. Instead they built a close friendship, with Crowley joining Kelly in his Montparnasse studio. They met again in Scotland, where Crowley met Kelly’s sister Rose. He and Rose soon ran off together to Egypt. Kelly went on to become President of the Royal Academy of Art. A passage about him in Crowley’s Confessions is interesting:
“During the May term of 1898 I met another man who, in his own way, was interested in many of the same things as I was myself. His name was Gerald Festus Kelly. He is described in the telephone book as an artist; and the statement might have passed unchallenged indefinitely had not the Royal Academy recently elected him as an associate. He is hardly to be blamed for this disgrace. He struggled manfully. Even at the last moment, when he felt the thunderclouds about to break over his head, he made a last desperate coup to persuade the world that he was an artist by marrying a model. But the device deceived nobody. The evidence of his pictures was too glaring. The effort, moreover, completely exhausted his power of resistance; and he received the blow with Christian resignation. It saddens me more than I can say to think of that young life which opened with such brilliant promise, gradually sinking into the slough of respectability. Of course it is not as if he had been able to paint; but to me the calamity is almost as distressing as if that possibility had ever existed. For he completely hypnotized me into thinking that he had something in him. I took his determination to become an artist as evidence of some trace of capacity and I still hope that his years of unremitting devotion to a hopeless ambition will earn him the right to reincarnate with some sort of soul.”
“We met in a somewhat romantic way. My Aceldama had just been issued and was being sold privately in the university at half-a-crown. (There were only eighty-eight copies, with ten on large paper and two on vellum.) One of the mottoes in Aceldama is a quotation from Swinburne’s “The Leper.” I had not acknowledged the authorship of Aceldama; it was by “A Gentleman of the University of Cambridge” in imitation of one of Shelley’s earlier books.”
“Now, there was a bookseller in the town with whom I had few dealings, for he was the most nauseatingly hypocritical specimen of the pushing tradesman that I ever set eyes on. He was entirely irreligious and did a considerable business in the kind of book which is loathsomely described as “curious.” But he was out to get the clerical and academic custom and to this end adopted a dress and manner which would have been affected in the sweetest of young curates. Somehow or other, a copy of Aceldama got into his hands; he showed it to Kelly, who was so excited by the quotation from Swinburne that he found out who I was, and a meeting was arranged. His knowledge of both art and literature was encyclopaedic, and we became very intimate, projecting collaboration in an Arthurian play and a new magazine to take the place of The Yellow Book and The Savoy, which had died with Beardsley. Noting much came of this at the time, but the meeting had in it the germs of important developments.”
Huntly Carter, in the pages of The New Age , agreed with Crowley–writing of Kelly’s work in this manner: “The subject of a Burmese woman lends itself to splendid design and colour. But he has no colour and his design is bad” (NA 8.17:404).