Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today

Ellsworth Kelly. Colors for a Large Wall. 1951

Oil on canvas, sixty-four panels, 7' 10 1/2" x 7' 10 1/2" (240 x 240 cm). Gift of the artist. © 2023 Ellsworth Kelly

Curator, Ann Temkin: Colors For A Large Wall is the painting that Ellsworth Kelly considered his masterpiece from the few years that he spent in France in the late '40s and early 1950s as a young American on the G.I. bill. The way this painting came about has its origin in a set of eight collages that Kelly called Spectrum Colors Arranged By Chance. And you see a couple of those on the wall nearby.

For those, he bought huge supplies of the colored adhesive paper that you could buy in art supply stores in Paris, He made these collages, randomly distributing the 18 colors according to mathematical systems that he devised for each one. And then when all of those collages were finished he had some leftover squares.

He decided to make a couple of small collages with those leftover squares to make a couple of small collages, including the one that we see on the wall that's just eight squares across and eight squares down. As you can see, there's a lot of white because Kelly didn't have all that many color squares left.

He said it perplexed him. And in the end, he decided he was going to make a painting. and made Colors For A Large Wall.

And what you have is a very radical painting for 1951. The approach that Kelly took in this painting, of letting color fall where it may, was something that was very liberating for him. And that an artist could work with color with a freedom and almost with a nonchalance and still end up with something beautiful.

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