Ellsworth Kelly American, 1923-2015



Ellsworth Kelly was born in 1923 in Newburgh, New York and went on to study at the Pratt Institute,Brooklyn, from 1941 to 1943. After military service from 1943 to 1945, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1946 to 1948. The following year, Kelly went to France and enrolled at the École des beaux-arts, Paris, under the GI Bill. It is here that he was introduced to Surrealism and Neo-Plasticism, which led him to experiment with automatic drawing and geometric abstraction.


During the 1950s, he traveled throughout France, where he met Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Calder, Alberto Magnelli, Francis Picabia, and Georges Vantongerloo, among other artists. His first solo show took place at the Galerie Arnaud Lefebvre, Paris, in 1951.


Kelly returned to the United States in 1954, living first in a studio apartment on Broad Street, New York, and then at Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan, where his neighbors  included the likes of Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, Fred Mitchell, James Rosenquist, Lenore Tawney, and Jack Youngerman. Kelly continued to develop and expand the vocabulary of painting, exploring issues of form and ground with his flatly painted canvases. His first solo show in New York was held at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1956, and three years later he was included in 16 Americans at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. Kelly moved out of Manhattan in 1970, and settled in nearby Spencertown, New York; he lived and worked there until his death in 2015.


Kelly’s extensive work has been recognized in numerous retrospectives, including a sculpture exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1982); an exhibition of works on paper and a show of his print works that traveled extensively in the United States and Canada (1987–88); and a career retrospective organized by the Guggenheim Museum (1996), which traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Tate Gallery, London; and Haus der Kunst, Munich. Since then, solo exhibitions of Kelly’s work have been mounted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1998); Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1999); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2002); Philadelphia Museum of Art (2007); and MoMA (2007).