American painter, sculptor and printmaker Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) may be best known for his vibrant, colorful abstract paintings but his plant drawings are equally noteworthy and beautiful. Delicate and incredibly accurate, Kelly’s drawings of flowers and leaves stand out by clear contrast with his hard-edge painting style.
Kelly studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and then at the École national supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His stay in the French capital considerably influenced his aesthetic. Immersed in the art scene, he met fellow modernists among which Romanian abstract sculptor Constantin Brancusi whose simplification of natural forms made a lasting impression on Kelly.
‘‘Leaves, Ille St. Louis”, from 1950
In the 1940s, right before he moved to France, Kelly started creating drawings of plants and flowers. Ailanthus (1948) was his first plant drawing he executed in Boston. Hyacinth (1949) was the first one he did when he was in Paris. His plant drawings are simple contour drawings of leaves, stems and flowers, done in clean strokes of pencil and centered on the page. Kelly does not use shading to convey volume, but rather relies on lines alone – as Calder and Matisse did (two artists he had studied closely). His drawings are reductive yet incredibly descriptive and accurate.
”They are portraits of plants, not anonymous. ” Each drawing locks a clear memory of a time, place and a specific choice of one plant over the other. According to Financial Times, ”he was very choosy about his botanicals, preferring simple leaves with defined shapes, as in his elegant sketches of gingkoes and milkweed, and avoiding orchids, which he calls too baroque.”
In the mid 1960s Mr. Kelly took up print making and produced a series of plant lithographs of exceptional beauty and simplicity. His collection of plant drawings was first shown to the world in 1969. I gathered bellow a few of my favorite prints, last shown at the Met in 2012. Enjoy!
”Hyacinth”, from 1949
”Cyclamen”, from 1964
”Branch of Leaves”
”Sweet Pea”, from 1960
”Last Lily”, from 1984
”Rose”, from 1983
”Mango’‘, from 1959
”Grape Leaves”, from 1973- 1974
”Seaweed”, from 1949
”Briar”, from 1961