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Ellsworth Kelly's drawings of plants, flowers, leaves, spanning 60 years, on view at Metropolitan Museum
Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923), Wild Grape, 1961. Watercolor on paper, 22 1/8 x 28 1/2 in. Private collection. © Ellsworth Kelly. Photograph Courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

NEW YORK, NY.- One of the foremost artists of our day, Ellsworth Kelly may be best known for his rigorous abstract painting. However, Kelly has made figurative drawings throughout his career, and has created an extraordinary body of work that now spans six decades. Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings—at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from June 5 through September 3, 2012—will be the first major museum exhibition dedicated exclusively to the artist’s drawings of plants, flowers, and leaves. The selection of approximately 75 drawings begins in 1948 during Kelly’s early sojourn in Paris and continues throughout his travels to his most recent work made in upstate New York. The exhibition will include loans from major public and private collections.

Ranging from seaweed suspended in his studio, to a flower discovered on the road side, to a single banana leaf examined at close range, Kelly’s renderings of plants—he likens them to portraits—are precisely observed studies of forms in nature. They are also steeped in memory and personal experience. “The most pleasurable thing in the world, for me,” the artist once said, “is to see something, and then to translate how I see it.” Although Kelly occasionally introduces brushed color in his exquisite depictions of blossoms, leaves, or fruit, he generally favors contour drawing in graphite or ink.

The first exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly’s plant drawings was at the Metropolitan Museum, in 1969, when Henry Geldzahler, then Curator of Contemporary Art, included 30 examples in the historic exhibition New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970. In addition to the works on paper, Geldzahler, working closely with the artist, installed a group of 12 paintings and sculptures in a separate gallery. For the first time, these figurative images could be seen in the context of Kelly’s abstract work. Since then, the plant drawings have been appreciated in numerous exhibitions and publications, but they have never been the sole subject of a museum retrospective.

Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923) has been featured in major solo exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art (1973), The Whitney Museum of American Art (1982), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1996), and his work is included in many prestigious American and international public collections. In 2002, his plant drawings were shown alongside those of Henri Matisse, whom Kelly has long admired, at the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. The Metropolitan Museum presented the 1979 exhibition Ellsworth Kelly: Recent Paintings and Sculpture and, in 1998, the artist’s sculptures were featured on The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden of the Museum.

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