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Ellsworth Kelly was born on May 31, 1923, in Newburgh, New York. He studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1941 to 1943 and attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from 1946 to 1948. The following year Kelly went to France and enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Kelly abstracts the forms in his paintings from observations of the real world, such as shadows cast by trees or the spaces between architectural elements. In 1950 Kelly met Jean Arp and that same year began to make shaped-wood reliefs and collages in which he arranged the elements according to the laws of chance. He soon began to make paintings in separate panels that could be recombined to produce different compositions, as well as multipanel paintings in which each canvas was painted a single color.
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 in New York where he first exhibited at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1956. In 1958 he also began to make freestanding sculptures. He moved out of Manhattan in 1970, setting up a studio in Chatham and a home in nearby Spencertown, New York. Kelly’s first retrospective was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1973. The following year he began an ongoing series of totemic sculptures in steel and aluminum. He traveled throughout Spain, Italy, and France in 1977, when his work was included in Documenta in Kassel.
He has executed many public commissions and has received numerous retrospective exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1982 and a career retrospective in 1996 organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, which traveled to Los Angeles, London, and Munich. Since then solo exhibitions have been mounted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1998), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2002), Philadelphia Museum of Art (2007), and Museum of Modern Art in New York (2007). The artist died in New York on December 27, 2015.