This summer it will be impossible to miss the immense sculptures in the outdoor exhibition Ellsworth Kelly in the Rijksmuseum Gardens. Kelly was one of the most important American artists of the second half of the 20th century. Nine of his sculptures will be displayed in our gardens, and all of them are appearing in the Netherlands for the first time.

The exhibition

The exhibition comprises a concise and representative selection of Ellsworth Kelly’s sculptural work from the 1960s until shortly before his death. The artist drew inspiration from ‘the things he saw’. He distilled these observations to their essence and transformed them into simple, clear-cut planes and forms. His 1973 sculpture Curve I, for example, was inspired by a trampled carton cup.

Ellsworth Kelly made barely any distinction between painting and sculpture, given his prioritization of form in both disciplines. As the artist himself said, ‘The form of my painting is the content.’ And it is the form of the sculptures, as well their colour palettes and material, that ensure their crisp, well-defined contours contrast starkly with their surroundings. While the artist’s use of colour is intense and rich in contrast, his works in bronze, weathering steel and wood are likewise crystal-clear visual statements.


Ellsworth Kelly (Newburgh 1923 – 2015 Spencertown) is regarded as one of the most important post-war abstract artists. After serving in the Ghost Army in the Second World War, Kelly studied fine arts, first in Boston and later Paris. He lived in Paris for six years, and visited the Netherlands several times in the latter period of his life. After returning from Paris to the US in 1954, it would be several years before he was accepted into the New York art world.

From 1957 onwards his work was acquired by prestigious museums such as New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, and 1973 saw the staging of his first retrospective, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Several Dutch museums have collected work by Ellsworth Kelly, including the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo.


The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue Ellsworth Kelly in the Rijksmuseum Gardens, published in a Dutch and English edition. Written by Alfred Pacquement, it contains a contribution from Carel Blotkamp, Emeritus Professor of Modern Art History at VU Amsterdam, on the relationship between Ellsworth Kelly and the Netherlands.


Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam holds a large collection of post-war American abstract art, and has a long association with Ellsworth Kelly. In 1967, the Stedelijk was the first European museum to acquire a work by the artist, and in 1979 it mounted his first solo exhibition in Europe. To coincide with the exhibition in the Rijksmuseum Gardens, Kelly’s 1963 sculpture Blue Red Rocker and 1982 painting Blue Curve VI will go on display at the Stedelijk, in the Audi Gallery. This presentation runs from 28 May to August 2021.


Ellsworth Kelly in the Rijksmuseum Gardens forms part of a series of sculpture exhibitions in the Rijksmuseum Gardens curated by guest curator Alfred Pacquement, the former Director of National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou. Previous editions were devoted to the work of Henry Moore (2013), Alexander Calder (2014), Joan Miró (2015), Giuseppe Penone (2016), Jean Dubuffet (2017), Eduardo Chillida (2018) and Louise Bourgeois (2019).

With thanks to

Ellsworth Kelly in the Rijksmuseum Gardens has come about in close partnership with Ellsworth Kelly Studio. The exhibition was made possible in part by a private donor, Ellsworth Kelly Studio, Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne, Pon, and Rijks Club.

Main image: Ellsworth Kelly with Yellow Blue, 1969, EK 416. Courtesy Ellsworth Kelly Studio. EK DAP 69.1

Until 24 October
Admission is free
Rijksmuseum Gardens

Opening hours

Daily from 9 to 17h


Museumstraat 1
1071 XX Amsterdam


Wheelchair access
Guide dogs allowed


Photography allowed
Free WiFi

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