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With the 100th anniversary of the birth of hard-edged abstract painter Ellsworth Kelly fast approaching (31 May), the artist’s foundation has bestowed early birthday gifts on dozens of museums around the United States.

The foundation has awarded grants totaling $2.75m to 50 museums and gifted them artworks valued at over $16m from the personal collection of Kelly’s widower, Jack Shear.

Five museums—the Whitney Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Art— are receiving $100,000 grants from the foundation alongside major works on paper of their choosing gifted by Shear. The remaining 45 museums are receiving $50,000 grants in tandem with more works on paper—those institutions range from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

“Ellsworth loved museums from a very young age and they were a key part of his education in Paris after the war,” Emily Rauh Pulitzer, a member of the foundation’s board, said in a statement. “He understood their essential function in preserving, interpreting and sharing our cultural heritage.”

Since its founding in 1991, the foundation has donated nearly $30m toward the exhibition and conservation of contemporary art, environmental and historic preservation, and community enrichment in Columbia County, New York, where Shear and Kelly made their home for more than 50 years.

Kelly, who died in 2015, is considered one of the most significant artists of his time. He received the National Medal of the Arts from president Barack Obama in 2012 and the James Smithson Bicentennial Award by the Smithsonian Institution in 2015. He was even posthumously honoured by the US Postal Service in 2019, when a set of “Forever” stamps featuring his work was issued.

Kelly’s centennial is being marked by a number of exhibitions at institutions across the country, including the Museum of Modern Art’s Ellsworth Kelly: A Centennial Celebration (until 11 June), and the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland, where Ellsworth Kelly at 100 opens 4 May.

In comments toThe New York Times, Shear said, “Whatever happens is because of Ellsworth. I’m stewarding his legacy as best I can.”

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