Ellsworth Kelly was an American painter, sculptor and printmaker whose work embodies the avant-garde of post-war abstraction. Along with the work of Mark Rothko and Kenneth Noland, Kelly’s paintings constitute the Color-Field counterpart to the gestural abstraction of Pollock and De Kooning. Much like Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly contributed to the development of Minimalism and the reductive paintings of the 1960s and 70s. His long and prolific career also produced large-scale sculptures in public outdoor spaces, beginning in the 1970s.
Born in 1923 in New York and raised in New Jersey, he spent much of his childhood learning ornithology near the Oradell Reservoir. He credited his early interest in birds as a guiding factor toward his later explorations of color. He studied at the Pratt Institute until joining the army in 1943, where he served with other artists in the Ghost Army, a unit responsible for creating tactical deceptions and camouflage, allowing him further training in painting. After the war, he used the G.I. Bill to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he attended lectures and visited artists including Francis Picabia, Alberto Giacometti and Max Beckmann, a formative period in his early career. Upon returning to New York six years later, he established himself among the Color Field artists, exhibiting alongside Frank Stella and Al Held, and experimenting with single-color paintings and shaped canvases.
Kelly’s works have captivated collectors and dealers for decades, both before and after his death in 2015. His first Museum sale was the Whitney Museum’s purchase of Atlantic in 1957. His works are held at the major artistic institutions of Western Europe and America, including the Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Tate Modern, London; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and many others. In 1987 he was named Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; he received the 2000 Praemium Imperiale, and the 2013 National Medal of Arts, presented by President Barack Obama.