Ellsworth Kelly

United States of America  1923–2015

Ellsworth Kelly was born in Newburgh, New York, on 31 May 1923. From 1941 he studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, before being called up into the army in 1943. Following his discharge in 1945 Kelly resumed his studies, attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1946–47. In 1948 he left for France, and there developed his characteristic style of simple, bold colour shapes. He held his first solo exhibition of paintings and reliefs at Galerie Arnaud, Paris, in 1951. He returned to the United States in 1954 and held a solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, in 1956. During the early 1960s Kelly participated in a number of important group exhibitions uniting artists working in a style of hard-edge and stained colour-field abstraction, including American Abstract Expressionists and Imagists at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1961, Geometric Abstraction in America at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1962, Toward a New Abstraction at the Jewish Museum, New York, in 1963, and Post-Painterly Abstraction at the Los Angeles County Museum in 1964. That year Kelly was awarded the painting prize at the Carnegie International Exhibition and in 1966 he was selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, together with Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein and Jules Olitski.

Kelly was given a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1973, and in 1979 the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, organised a retrospective that toured other venues in Europe. In 1982 the Whitney Museum held a comprehensive exhibition of his sculpture. In 1993 Kelly was presented with the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French Republic and in 1996 the first Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts on the 125th anniversary of the Boston Museum School; he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, and became an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A career retrospective was organised by Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1996, which travelled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Tate Gallery, London, and the Haus der Kunst, Munich, in 1997–1998. The touring exhibition, Ellsworth Kelly: The Early Drawings, 1948–1955, was organised in conjunction between the Harvard University Art Museums and the Kunstmuseum, Winterthur, in 1999, and Ellsworth Kelly: Works 1956–2002, was held at the Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, 2002–2003. Kelly died in Spencertown, New York, on 27 December 2015.

See more works by this artist in the NGA collection

Ellsworth Kelly Orange Curve 1964-65 © Ellsworth Kelly Purchased 1977 Learn more