Ellsworth Kelly was born in New York state in 1923. He studied art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1941, however his studies were interrupted when he entered the U.S. military in 1943. Upon leaving the army at the end of the war, he resumed his studies, firstly at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and later at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
In Paris, Kelly made his first abstract paintings and his paintings from then onwards were almost exclusively abstract and often very large in scale. Whilst living in Paris, he began to draw simple plant and flower forms, a theme that would continue in his lithographic work in the 1960s. Kelly remained in France until 1954, then returned to New York City where he had his first exhibition at Betty Parsons' Gallery and a year later at the Whitney Museum of American Art's exhibit 'Young America 1957'. In the 1960s, he produced his 'Suite of Twenty-Seven Lithographs' with Maeght Éditeur in Paris, and then more plant lithographs with Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles.
Kelly left New York City in 1970, moving upstate to Spencertown with his partner, photographer Jack Shear. Kelly lives and works in Spencertown, New York.