Collection 1950s–1970s


Ellsworth Kelly’s Sketchbooks



Ellsworth Kelly. Sketchbook #26, New York City. 1954–56. Page from a spiral-bound notebook with pencil, ink, colored ink, and ball point pen on paper, 14 1/8 × 10 7/8 × 1/2" (35.9 × 27.6 × 1.3 cm). Gift of Jack Shear, 2020
  • MoMA, Floor 4, 416 The David Geffen Galleries

The works that Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015) created over his six-decade career feature economic lines, reduced geometries, and uninterrupted planes of color. They appear strikingly simple yet embody a semblance of ease that conceals the effort and experimentation involved in producing them. Kelly’s sketchbooks—which largely remained private throughout the artist’s lifetime—reveal the particularities of his unique process. Their pages hint at the real-world references that often inspired his seemingly non-objective compositions.

This gallery celebrates the centennial of Kelly’s birth and includes several works that came to MoMA as gifts of Jack Shear, including 25 of the artist’s sketchbooks. A selection of them are shown with related drawings and paintings. In automatic drawings he let his pencil flow freely. In multicolor grids he similarly harnessed the possibilities of chance while arranging squares of paper. And in collages of flat color, he chose shapes that he adopted from “out there in the world”—transforming passing impressions into an art of ideals.

Organized by Samantha Friedman, Associate Curator, with Danielle Johnson, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.

20 works online


Installation images

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