Chloe Talbot Kelly 1927 - 2023

SWLA Founder Member

Chloe was born on St. Swithin’s Day, the 15th July 1927, in Hampstead, North London, daughter of the distinguished artist Richard Barrett Talbot Kelly. Art was certainly in her blood, with, on her father’s side, Grandfather Robert George Talbot Kelly and Great Grandfather Robert George Kelly; on her mother’s side, her Grandfather was the celebrated Edwardian painter Edgar Bundy. 

Her father, affectionately known as TK, was the Art Master at Rugby school and Chloe was (at the time) one of only two girls to be taught there. At the outbreak of war TK was enlisted as Head of Camouflage, and Chloe was evacuated out of London to various places around the country, one of which was a convent in Scotland — Chloe recalls learning the core skills of self-reliance and resilience.

She earned a scholarship to university as she wanted to study journalism, but her father had noticed she had a talent for painting and encouraged her to paint birds with a friend of his from the military at The Natural History Museum, South Kensington, London. In June 1945 she started in the botany department, painting rare flowers, until TK’s colleague, Captain Grant, poached her saying he wanted her to work with him and others in The Bird Room. She went on to work with some of the world’s foremost ornithologists and bird painters.

Her first husband worked for UK Fisheries, and she travelled the world painting wherever they were based for his work, in South Africa, Panama, New Zealand and Sierra Leone. After circumnavigating the globe two-and-a-half times they returned to UK, yet divorced. Chloe thrived on her independence and painted non-stop. She freelanced, undertaking private commissions as well as illustrating several field guides for Collins publishers including Birds of the Seychelles, and Birds of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. She also wrote and illustrated her own handbook, Birds of New Zealand, and one of her paintings of a New Zealand Fantail was used as a national stamp in the 1950’s.

In 1963 she married for the second time and gave birth to her only child, Alexander Richard Talbot Smith in 1964

Chloe and her father were both founder members of the Society of Wildlife Artists, and she exhibited with the SWLA at the Mall Galleries until 1995. She continued working as an illustrator working on various reference books including The New Dictionary of Birds, The African Handbook of Birdsand The Birds of The Western Palearctic. 

When her favourite picture framer in Leicester retired, Chloe started framing her own work, with her son Alex helping on his days off. They worked well as a team, and decided to start a family business picture framing — Sanderling Fine Art was an independent trader for 25 years. Alex describes his mother with great affection:

She was an amazing, talented, yet very humble artist. A funny, naughty and slightly eccentric character, and a great mother. For her 90th birthday in 2018 I curated her one and only one-woman show at a local gallery in Leicester. She loved the opening night, and even at the age of 90 her enthusiasm for sharing her art and knowledge was undiminished.’