Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Blue Green Red

Artist:
Ellsworth Kelly (American, Newburgh, New York 1923–2015 Spencertown, New York)
Date:
1963
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
91 x 82 in. (231.1 x 208.3 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1963
Accession Number:
63.73
Rights and Reproduction:
© Ellsworth Kelly
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 915
Ellsworth Kelly began his studies as an artist at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1941, and the same year enlisted in the U.S. Army. In 1944 he participated in the operations in Normandy and Brittany. During the time his division was stationed in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Kelly made his first trip to Paris. When he returned to the United States, he entered the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he began training as a realist painter. In 1948, Kelly took advantage of the G.I. Bill to return to Paris, where he stayed for six years. While the years between 1948 and 1954 were crucial ones for the Abstract Expressionists in New York, Kelly's work, away from this influence, developed a greater affinity with that of Matisse and Arp.


Hard-edged, flat, and without a trace of the artist's hand, Kelly's signature imagery is nonetheless based on architectural and natural forms. In Kelly's hands, abstraction becomes a conceptual method by which he reconfigures and recontextualizes the forms and structures of the real world. His paintings and sculptures represent a subjective interpretation of reality, rather than a descriptive copy of it. In "Blue Green Red," he has juxtaposed three bold colors in a highly skillful and effective manner to create a complex picture in which color and shape are one. The edges of one shape—the rectangle—are identified with the edges of the canvas, while the blue ellipse expands beyond the canvas, forcing us to finish it in our minds. Despite the clean, precise rendering of the ellipse, its form is irregular and seems to float and swell, activating the entire composition.


Kelly's arrangement of the complementary colors, which work to intensify one another at their intersections, is also an essential component of the work. The opposite colors of red and green both add to the boldness of the work and divide the overall rectangle into distinct units. The artist has also exploited the tendency of warm colors to appear to come forward on the picture plane, and cool ones to recede. While the bright, unmodulated colors are unequivocally two-dimensional, we can nevertheless read the red strip at the bottom as foreground and the cool green and blue as receding background. When viewed as foreground and background in this way, the sources in nature for Kelly's forms are suggested. Blue and green are the colors of water and earth—perhaps lake and field, as indicated not only by hue but by the swelling, fluid shape of the ellipse and the flatness of the green surrounding it. While the painting itself is continuous with the European biomorphic tradition, its scale is that of the huge close-ups of billboards and movie screens—a very American form.

the artist, New York (1963; sold through Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, to MMA)

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Three Centuries of American Painting," April 9–October 17, 1965, unnum. checklist.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940–1970," October 18, 1969–February 1, 1970, no. 175.

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "Great American Paintings from the Boston and Metropolitan Museums," November 30, 1970–January 10, 1971, no. 99.

Saint Louis, Mo. City Art Museum. "Great American Paintings from the Boston and Metropolitan Museums," January 28–March 7, 1971, no. 99.

Seattle Art Museum. "Great American Paintings from the Boston and Metropolitan Museums," March 25–May 9, 1971, no. 99.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Tribute to a Curator: Robert Beverly Hale," November 16, 1978–March 4, 1979, unnum. checklist.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. "Ellsworth Kelly: Red Green Blue, Paintings and Studies 1958–1965," January 19–April 14, 2003, no. 6.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Ellsworth Kelly: Red Green Blue, Paintings and Studies 1958–1965," April 27–July 27, 2003, no. 6.

New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Ellsworth Kelly: Red Green Blue, Paintings and Studies 1958–1965," August 10–November 3, 2003, no. 6.

John Coplans. Ellsworth Kelly. New York, [197?], colorpl. 149, dates it 1962–63.

Barbara Burn, ed. Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 308, ill. (color), dates it 1962–63.

Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 2nd ed. (1st ed., 1983). New York, 1994, p. 449, no. 31, ill. (color).

Toby Kamps in Ellsworth Kelly: Red Green Blue, Paintings and Studies, 1958–1965. Exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. San Diego, 2003, p. 17, no. 6, ill. p. 53 (color).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, p. 427, ill. (color).



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