Kelly travelled to Egypt several times. He left his employment in 1882, travelled by boat to North Africa, and settled in Egypt in 1883, acquiring a studio in Cairo and becoming fluent in Arabic. He travelled throughout the country, writing about and painting the people and scenes he encountered both in towns and in the desert. He spent a considerable time with the Bedouin tribes who he described and illustrated in his 1902 book, Egypt Painted and Described. This book was an account of his impressions and experiences of that country during his long stay there. An exhibition of his Egyptian views was also held at the Fine Art Society in the same year. His paintings and writing showed a great empathy and respect for local people and culture, especially that of the desert Bedouin Arabs.

Kelly stayed in Egypt until 1915 when for reasons of health and age he returned to London – though he continued to paint constantly.

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