Lot 10
  • 10

Ellsworth Kelly

500,000 - 700,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Ellsworth Kelly
  • White Yellow
  • signed with initials and inscribed For Louis Clayeux Jan. 1958 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 16 x 12 in. 40.5 x 30 cm.
  • Executed in 1957.


Louis Clayeux, Paris (gift of the artist in 1958)
Thence by descent to the present owner


Tanlay/Yonne, France, Centre d'Art Contemporain, Château de Tanlay, Regard d'un collectionneur - Peintures, Sculptures, Dessins - 40 artistes contemporains, June - October 1988, p. 145 (text) (incorrectly titled Untitled)

Catalogue Note

White Yellow was a gift from Ellsworth Kelly in 1958 to Louis Clayeux, the renowned artistic director of Galerie Maeght from 1948 to 1965. Kelly had moved to Paris on the GI Bill in 1948 and his six years in the European capital were decisive in the development of his Hard Edge style. Kelly met Clayeux through the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi in 1950, and this introduction would be instrumental in the launching of Kelly’s career.  Clayeux was known as a friend and champion of Alberto Giacometti’s work since they had first met while Clayeux was at the gallery of Louis Carré, and the sculptor later joined Galerie Maeght in 1949 at the behest of its new artistic director. Befriending Kelly the following year, Clayeux included four of his paintings in Galerie Maeght’s annual exhibition of young talent, where Georges Braque expressed admiration for his work. Kelly returned to New York in 1954 where he quickly was discovered by the dealer Betty Parsons who gave Kelly his first American one-man exhibition in 1956. In 1958, Kelly returned to Paris for a solo exhibition of his work at Galerie Maeght. Lawrence Alloway, then director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, attended the show and, following Alloway’s recommendation, the famed collector E. J. Power acquired eight paintings by Kelly. The artist’s gift of White Yellow to Clayeux, with its dedicatory inscription dated 1958, is a fitting tribute to this relationship.

White Yellow of 1957 is a stunning painting of quiet power and eloquence which encapsulates Ellsworth Kelly’s unique gifts for color, form, and abstraction. Painted during a critical period at the outset of his investigations of modernist painterly theories, White Yellow is nevertheless a gem of technical erudition and aesthetic sophistication that is a beacon toward the monumental monochromes and multi-panels that would populate Kelly’s corpus from the 1960s to the present. Balanced within the traditional rectilinear canvas shape, the organic forms of White Yellow render foreground and background nearly indistinguishable, yet there is the faint illusion of three dimensions in the geometry of the forms and the vibrancy of the color; it is difficult for the viewer to optically read yellow and white simultaneously so the brain divides them, sensing juxtaposition and contrast.  The artist consistently calls upon such elements of tension to achieve pictorial vitality and White Yellow is a stunning realization of this concept. 

Throughout Kelly’s career, the principal importance has been in shapes and the space that surrounds them while color functions as an asset in his painterly arsenal which he employs to achieve his structural aims.  The softly contoured edges of the shapes in White Yellow vie with the angled placement of the two white forms to create a sense of slippage and weightlessness that pushes the composition out from the paint surface. Yet Kelly’s restrained paint application grounds the work and returns the viewer’s attention to the flatness of the canvas and its identity as an object.  The lines between the yellow and white forms vibrate and pulse with an oscillation that is prescient in terms of Kelly’s joined shaped canvases to come in later years.