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    Sale 2048

    Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale

    12 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 11

    Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923)

    Green White

    Price Realised  


    Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923)
    Green White
    signed with initials and dated 'EK 61' (lower right); signed again and dated again 'KELLY 61' (on the stretcher)
    oil on canvas
    66 x 69 in. (167.6 x 175.3 cm.)
    Painted in 1961.

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    An important exponent of abstract art of the Post-War era, Ellsworth Kelly created works of startling visual intensity, lyrically distilling visual experiences rooted in nature, which he transformed into pure abstraction through flat planes of color. Kelly's art has influenced some of the most significant artistic movements of the past half century, ranging from Color-Field painting and Post-painterly Abstraction to Minimalism and Hard-edge painting, while never formally belonging to any of them. Kelly has described his artistic mission thus: "I have worked to free shape from its ground, and then to work the shape so that it has a definite relationship to the space around it; so that it has a clarity and a measure within itself of its parts (angles, curves, edges and mass); and so that, with color and tonality, the shape finds its own space and always demands its freedom and separateness" (E. Kelly, quoted in Ellsworth Kelly: Recent Paintings and Sculptures, exh. cat., New York, 1979, p. 7).

    Green White, painted in 1961, is a monumentally scaled canvas that superbly encapsulates Kelly's signature language of abstraction. As Kelly insisted, "In my own work, I have never been interested in painterliness (or what I find is) a personal handwriting, putting marks on canvas. My work is a different way of seeing and making something and which has a different use" (E. Kelly, Notes of 1969, reprinted in K. Stiles and P. Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, Berkeley, 1996, p. 93). The flat, unmodulated surfaces that Kelly favored were a dramatic riposte to the dominant American style of Abstract Expressionism, but Kelly managed to derive a visual force comparable to the most loaded bravura brushwork in his audaciously reduced forms. He frequently worked with two-color compositions, as in the present work, playing with perceptual ambiguity between positive and negative space, and heightening the expressive interaction of his forms.

    The curving forms of the two-color composition of Green-White represent an important development in Kelly's oeuvre in which he moved away from rectilinear, hard-edged shapes in favor for a more organic, softer composition. Since his first forays into abstraction while living in Paris in 1949, Kelly worked with shapes derived from life, such as found objects or shadows, using these forms not as biomorphic metaphors, but as pure visual experiences in themselves. As Kelly proclaimed, "Making art has first of all to do with honesty. My first lesson was to see objectively, to erase all 'meaning' of the thing seen. Then only could the real meaning of it be understood and felt" (Ibid.).


    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1965

    Pre-Lot Text



    "In the Galleries," Arts Magazine (May/June 1962).
    M. Kozloff, "Geometric Abstraction in America," Art International VI, vol. 5-6 (Summer 1962), p. 99 (illustrated as Green-White).
    D. McConathy, "Ellsworth Kelly," Derrière le Miroir (November 1964), no. 3 (illustrated).
    Y.-A. Bois, Ellsworth Kelly: The Years in France, 1948-1954, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1992, p. 13.


    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Geometric Abstraction in America, March-May 1962, no. 49, pl. 41 (illustrated as Green-White).
    Washington, D.C., Washington Gallery of Modern Art and Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings by Ellsworth Kelly, December 1963-January 1964, no. 3.
    Paris, Galerie Maeght, Ellsworth Kelly, November-December 1964.
    New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Ellsworth Kelly, Spring 1965.
    St. Louis, The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Selected Works by Ellsworth Kelly from St. Louis Collections, April-October 2002.