12:00 PM

Museum Receives Major Gift of Eighteen Drawings, an Early Painting, and a Steel Sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly

Celebrating the centenary of Kelly’s birth, the works are offered gifts from the late artist’s husband Jack Shear and are now on view in "Ellsworth Kelly: Reflections on Water and Other Early Drawings" and "Ellsworth Kelly: Paris: New York"

Reflections on Water and Other Early Drawings is on view through October 15, 2023 and Paris and New York is an ongoing exhibition

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Ellsworth Kelly’s birth with a new exhibition highlighting an extraordinary group of drawings that Jack Shear, the artist’s longtime partner and husband, has generously offered along with a related painting and sculpture as gifts to the museum. They come just as the museum has dedicated Gallery 275 as the newly endowed Jennifer Rice and Michael Forman Gallery which has long showcased the early work of Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) and will be devoted to artist’s work and legacy. The installation of works on paper features rare drawings from the radically innovative period, just after World War II, when the young Kelly lived in Paris as well as several more from later years demonstrating how he envisioned such works as the steel sculpture Curve 1 (1973), currently on view in the museum’s Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden. Ellsworth Kelly: Reflections on Water and Other Early Drawings also richly illuminates the group of paintings in Ellsworth Kelly: Paris: New York, 1949-1956 in the newly endowed gallery. Together, the twin adjacent installations explore the very foundations of an evolving vision that would distinguish Kelly as one of the most important artists of the Post-war period.  

Sasha Suda, the George D. Widener Director and CEO, said: “These exceptional works show Ellsworth Kelly's early and enduring promise as one of the major American artists of the twentieth century.  The Philadelphia Museum of Art is deeply grateful to Jack Shear for this extraordinary gift, and we’re proud to create a permanent home for them as we dedicate the newly endowed Jennifer Rice and Michael Forman Gallery to Ellsworth Kelly’s vision — together, a perfect collaborative vision that underscores Kelly’s indelible place in the narrative.  With this joyful event, PMA is happy to join with prominent institutions around the country in celebrating the Kelly Centennial.”

Carlos Basualdo, the Marion Boulton “Kippy” Stroud Chief Curator, stated: “Years ago we had an opportunity to work closely with Ellsworth Kelly himself to select some works from the years he spent in Paris, from 1948 until 1954, and to place them on view. Those Paris years after the war represented a transformative time in his practice and his life and we have been fortunate to have been able to share what he achieved with our public. This extraordinary gift and endowment renew and deepen our commitment to the artist and his legacy.” 

Commenting on the gallery's endowment, Shear--who also serves as President of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation—remarked: "Needless to say, I am thrilled. The PMA and Jennifer Rice and Michael Forman have shown passionate commitment and deeply felt enthusiasm for Ellsworth’s work and his continuing legacy at the museum. The PMA was such an important place for Ellsworth, going back to his years-long friendship with director Anne d'Harnoncourt (1943-2008). That it is happening in Ellsworth's centennial year is truly special."

The eighteen works on paper in Ellsworth Kelly: Reflections on Water and Other Early Drawings—along with four drawings, three of which are already in the museum’s collection and one a promised gift of Trustee Katherine Sachs—reflect Kelly’s earliest efforts to challenge his own assumptions about what art could be beyond conventional representations of people, places, and things. They demonstrate how he came to give shape to what he would call “already mades,” meaning objects or structures that he could find in his real-world surroundings and use for taking his art in new directions.   

Many of the drawings in the gift are closely related to paintings in the Jennifer Rice and Michael Forman Gallery, presenting visitors with an opportunity to look deeply into Kelly’s process as they pass between the two galleries. Among the offered gifts are both the graphite drawing Study for Seaweed (1949), and painting Seaweed (1949). For the drawing, which is distinctive in its economy of line, Kelly outlined a piece of seaweed that he had pinned to the door of his cottage in the beach town of Belle-Ile-en-Mer. The larger painting, with its characteristic black-and-white color palette of this period, contains a painterly touch that lingered in Kelly’s work.   

Among the drawings also are several that closely relate to Seine (1951) a painting normally displayed in the Jennifer Rice and Michael Forman Gallery (and currently on loan to the Glenstone Museum). In addition are several other works that, like the Seine pictures, variously treat the play of light on water with striking effects and incorporate elements of chance in their execution.  

By uniting two important studies with the gift of the steel sculpture Curve 1--Jack Shear has offered all three of these to the museum—the museum can now clearly show how Kelly transformed something as seemingly random as a crushed paper cup into a radical idea for sculpture, demonstrating as Kelly once put it how “everything I saw became something to be made, and it had to be made exactly as it was, with nothing added.”  

Louis Marchesano, Audrey and William H. Helfand Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, who organized Ellsworth Kelly: Reflections on Water and Other Early Drawings, commented: “The beautiful group of drawings, with its rich concentration of early works, gives us a key to understanding Kelly’s vision. They are surprising in the variety and size of papers and drawing media -- all of which gives us a sense of Kelly transforming himself as an artist. If you spend a little time with them, you begin to see a process unfold and you can imagine how that process early in his career informed the entire trajectory of his art.”  

About Ellsworth Kelly 
Painter, sculptor, draftsman, printmaker, photographer, and philanthropist Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015) was one of the most significant artists of his time. His seven-decade career was marked by the independent route he took from any formal school or art movement and by his pioneering contributions to twentieth century art. The consistency of his artistic vision ensured that each work was immediately recognizable as his own, even when he experimented with new forms and materials.

In 2012, Ellsworth Kelly received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama. The award citation observed that the artist “has shaped more than half a century of abstraction and remains a vital influence in American art.” The Smithsonian Institute issued a similar declaration in 2015 when it selected Kelly for their James Smithson Bicentennial Medal, describing him as “one of the most important abstract artists.”

Kelly received honorary doctoral degrees from Pratt Institute, Bard College, Harvard University, Williams College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Brandeis University, and the Royal College of Art, London. Among the numerous awards he received were Japan’s Praemium Imperiale Award in 2000 and France’s Officier de la Legion d’Honneur in 2009. In 2019, Kelly was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with ten U.S “Forever” stamps featuring his art.

About Jack Shear
Jack Shear (b. 1953) is a photographer, art collector, and philanthropist who lives and works in New York City and Spencertown, NY. He was married to the renowned artist, Ellsworth Kelly, and now serves as President of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation.   

His work is represented in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art and has published a number of books of his photography. The most recent, Knot (Copper Canyon Press, 2022) is a collaboration with Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Forrest Gander.  

Shear has also built an outstanding collection of drawings ranging from old masters to contemporary artists. Recent exhibitions of works from the collection were held at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, Austin and at The Drawing Center in New York, New York. In 2020 he was honored by The Drawing Center for his work as a collector. He currently serves on the Drawings and Prints Committee at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the executive committee of the museum’s International Council. Shear is also a trustee for the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies.  

About the Philadelphia Museum of Art
We are Philadelphia’s art museum. A world-renowned collection. A landmark building. A place that welcomes everyone. We bring the arts to life, inspiring visitors—through scholarly study and creative play—to discover the spirit of imagination that lies in everyone. We connect people with the arts in rich and varied ways, making the experience of the Museum surprising, lively, and always memorable. We are committed to inviting visitors to see the world—and themselves—anew through the beauty and expressive power of the arts.

For additional information, contact the Communications Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art: pressroom@philamuseum.org.

Social Media
Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Tumblr/You Tube: @philamuseum; Tik Tok: @philaartmuseum