Frank McKelvey was born on 3 June 1895 at 11 Glenvale Street, Belfast. After attending Mayo Street National School, he became an apprentice lithographer and poster designer at Davis Allen & Sons. He then entered the Belfast College of Art, where in 1911- 12 he won the Sir Charles Brett Prize, and in 1913-14 the Fitzpatrick Prize, both for figure drawing from life.
Frank's father, William, was a painting contractor, and in his early years Frank worked from his father's premises on the Woodvale Road. He first exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1918 and his landscape painting won him immediate recognition in Dublin. He continued exhibiting at the R.H.A. every year for the next fifty-five years, showing from three to eight works each time.
McKelvey became a full-time painter of landscapes and portraits, opening his first studio at 142 Royal Avenue around 1919, next to that of artist J.W. Carey (1859-1937) and exhibiting mostly in Belfast, Dublin and Glasgow. His landscape paintings are typically of farm scenes in Co Armagh, the North Coast, and later in Co Donegal. Thomas McGowan commissioned him, together with other local artists, to paint pictures of old Belfast, and this collection is in the Ulster Museum. As a member of the RHA, he exhibited in Belfast, Dublin and Londonderry, and in 1936 had a one-man show where three of his landscapes were purchased as a wedding present for Queen Juliana of the Netherlands by Dutch people living in Ireland.
McKelvey also painted many portraits, amongst them the mathematician and physicist Sir Joseph Larmor; the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sir Martin Wallace; Sir William Whitla; the 3rd Duke of Abercorn and Professor Sir William Thomson. Thirteen of his large-scale portrait drawings of U.S. Presidents with Ulster lineage were presented to the Belfast Museum & Art Gallery in 1931. He also illustrated Margaret Holland's book My Winter of Content under Indian Skies.
His work can now be found in the Royal Collection at The Hague and in many places in Ireland including the Crawford Gallery, Cork; Queen's University, Belfast; the Ulster Museum and the Masonic Hall in Dublin. In London the National Maritime Museum houses one of his paintings depicting an Aran Island currach.
Frank McKelvey died on 30 June 1974 in Belfast.