American artist Ellsworth Kelly has constructed a beautiful oeuvre over nearly eighty years, encompassing painting, sculpture and printmaking. Kelly couples graceful simplicity of form with unassuming, yet deftly executed technique. Borrowing elements of Color Field Painting, hard-edge painting, and Minimalism, he has crafted a distinctive style all his own. Kelly began making abstract paintings in 1949; in 1952, his discovery of the late work of Monet inspired him to paint more candidly, utilizing large formats, and exploring seriality and monochrome. By the late 1950s, Kelly’s paintings featured shapes and planar masses that bridged American geometric abstraction with reductive Minimalism.
Yellow White was purchased by the legendary collectors Celeste and Armand Bartos from famed gallerist Betty Parsons in 1963, the year of its completion, for their personal collection. Mr. and Mrs. Bartos were polymath patrons of the arts with interests that spanned painting, sculpture, cinema, design, architecture, and new media. Their collection included works by many of the Twentieth century’s greatest artists including Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger, Alexander Calder and Andy Warhol in addition to Kelly, demonstrating the couple’s discerning eye for quality. The gallerist Betty Parsons was, as Kelly said himself, “an extraordinary woman in the history of modern art” (C. Strickland, “Betty Parsons’s 2 Lives: She Was Artist, Too”, The New York Times, 28 June 1992.) Parsons ran her Manhattan Gallery from 1946 until her death in 1982, representing the leading names in American art: Abstract Expressionists like Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, as well as the next generation. Yellow White, which was loaned to the Whitney Museum’s 1964 exhibition of New American Painting, was cherished and hung prominently in the Bartos family home for much of the couple’s lifetime.
With its sweeping, organic shape, Kelly’s Yellow White is a larger-than-life-sized study in nature, abstracted, and distinctly two-dimensional. Seeming to emit a warm halo of light from its perfectly calibrated hue, it is quintessential Kelly: abstract and organic, minimal yet powerful, and perfectly deliberate in its canary-cream simplicity.