Lot 33
  • 33

Ellsworth Kelly

3,500,000 - 4,500,000 USD
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  • Ellsworth Kelly
  • Blue Panel
  • signed and dated 1986 on the overlap; signed, dated 1986, numbered EK740, and variously inscribed on the backing boards
  • oil on canvas
  • 99 1/2 by 94 in. 252.7 by 238.8 cm.


Blum Helman Gallery, New York
Roger and Myra Davidson, Toronto
Sotheby's New York, November 13, 1991, Lot 33
Acquired by the present owner from the above 


New York, Blum Helman Gallery, Ellsworth Kelly: Paintings, April - June 1986, n.p., no. 5, illustrated in color
Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Selections from the Roger and Myra Davidson Collection, January - March 1987, p. 36, illustrated in color
Baden-Baden, Germany, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? Positionen der Farbfeldmalerei, July - September 2007, p. 77, illustrated in color


Ann Hindry, "Ellsworth Kelly: une investigation phénoménologique sur pans de couleur," Artstudio Monochromes 16, Spring 1990, p. 97, illustrated in color


This work is in very good condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at +1 (212) 606-7254 for the report prepared by Dana Cranmer of Cranmer Art Group, LLC. This work is accompanied by the original metal frame from Blum Helman Gallery, New York.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

"The decisive point in Kelly's development was reached when he abandoned the traditional dynamic of painting's organization, when form emancipated itself from its customary support, the ground, so that it could from then on lead an independent existence in the visual world." (Gottfried Boehm, "In-Between Spaces" in Exh. Cat., Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Ellsworth Kelly, 2002, p. 33) Executed in the seminal year of 1986, Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue Panel is a monumental ode to Kelly’s most advanced explorations of form and color—a canvas of immense vitality that defies the two-dimensional plane and lifts color and form out of the pictorial realm into the sculptural. Boasting a brilliant blue expanse, Kelly has once again defined space without dominating it and has beautifully created his own remarkable reality of color—an inextricably stunning achievement that resounds with eternal profundity. Kelly conceived his shaped canvases as immediate, unmediated effects which would recreate a vivid and graphically stimulating reference to the viewer's own immediate and unmediated visual experience of the physical world. However, all experience, whether physical or spiritual, is certainly mediated and becomes subjective. Even when Kelly's geometric abstractions were first exhibited in 1959, they were already perceived as having "hard, crisp edges [that] commanded the eye to feel them as the hand would feel soft flesh." (E. C. Goosen in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Sixteen Americans, 1959, p. 31) Executed almost three decades later, Kelly’s Blue Curve is a remarkable example from the very apex of the artist’s innovation and development. Conflating the categories of painting, sculpture, and relief, in the present work Kelly achieved a powerful unified visual entity. 

In its grand scale, chromatic brilliance and profound rearticulation of the picture plane, the present work exemplifies Kelly’s unwavering commitment to and rigorous examination of the most fundamental elements of painting: color, shape and form. Though it appears recognizable in its geometric simplicity, Kelly’s vast shaped canvas in fact does not adhere to any standard forms known to us. Kelly’s shape teeters on the brink of regularity while evading categorization altogether, gracefully floating in space with the ineffably elegant curve of its trilateral edges. No longer restrained by four strict delineated edges, Kelly’s shaped canvas swells from beyond its borders, bringing the wall into the overall composition. By utilizing such a blunt and sophisticated economy of means, the artist has addressed the nature of the painted canvas as a structured object, not a field of painterly gesture, with a singular impactful color entirely shifting our perceptions of space. With his self-imposed minimal artistic vocabulary, Kelly has succeeded in experimenting with perception without diluting what he considered to be the essential factors of artistic representation – color and form. Kelly explored the limits and boundaries of painting using distilled color and shaped canvases, through which he eschewed literal representation and rather aimed to capture a fleeting moment from everyday life. Although not directly representational, Kelly’s paintings are anchored in precise sources of naturally occurring abstraction: the light streaming through a mullioned window, the silhouette of a bird’s wing against the sky, the shape of a leaf folded over onto itself. These points of reference—so skillfully and austerely stripped down to their most fundamental components—ground Kelly’s art in a physical space, while simultaneously revealing a post-war preoccupation with alternate methods of representation and the viewer’s perception of the final product. Kelly’s works are born from “perceptual serendipity—in a shadow, a reflection, a partly obscured object or shape—from which he then shears away a visual fragment.” (Simon Schama, quoted in “Ellsworth Kelly: ‘I want to live another 15 years.’” Rachel Cooke, The Guardian, November 8, 2015)

A pioneer of the Hard-Edge movement, Kelly is best known for these saturated, monochromatic panels of color that coalesce Abstraction, Minimalism, and a post-war sensibility in a wholly unique style that has come to define his body of work. Kelly sought to understand the very principles of painterly and artistic tradition that challenged artists from Raphael to Paul Signac, testing the limits of color and shape. Like the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists nearly a century before him, Kelly continued to explore the essence of pigment, not in the service of trompe l'oeil but rather as an end product in and of itself. As exemplified by the seeming depth of the brilliant blue in Blue Panel, Kelly privileges color alone to such a degree that his output becomes an exercise in renegotiating the relationship between painting and sculpture, wherein color takes on the identity of a sculpture in its own right. Kelly divorces his art from the framed rectangle as a circumscribed ‘window into the world’ of traditional art history, and instead expands the flatbed picture plane outward by bringing the wall on which they hang into the composition. The uninterrupted surface and hue of the vibrant blue panel serves as a testament to the control, precision, and exacting nature of Kelly’s signature style and his inestimable contribution to the legacy of Twentieth-Century art.