• Important American Paintings,  auction at Christies

    Sale 2561

    Important American Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture

    16 May 2012, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 13

    Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

    Deer Horns

    Price Realised  


    Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
    Deer Horns
    oil on canvas
    36 x 16 in. (91.4 x 40.6 cm.)
    Painted in 1938.

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    "Since her first visit there in 1917, Santa Fe had never left O'Keeffe's consciousness. Reminders of New Mexico occurred periodically and unexpectedly. In 1925, Stieglitz mentioned in a letter the pull of the Southwest on Georgia's mind: 'She dreams of the plains--of real spaces.'" (R. Robinson, Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life, New York, 1989, p. 321)

    Georgia O'Keeffe returned to New Mexico in 1929 and was captivated anew by the vast, rugged landscape and the spiritual character of the place, visiting time and again before moving there permanently in 1949. She first painted the southwestern landscape in a Modernist style, emphasizing its monumental and spiritual qualities and its undulating forms, crystalline light and brilliant colors. In 1931, she embarked on a more intimate exploration, experimenting with animal bones as a subject and commencing a series of beautiful and haunting works, which would continue to occupy her for the next twenty-five years. Deer Horns is a superb example of these paintings and is a stark, iconic image suggestive of the rugged beauty and unique aesthetic of the Southwest.

    A keen observer of nature and its various forms, who had been painting magnified images of trees and leaves since the 1910s, O'Keeffe found importance, both pictorial and mystical, in the organic objects she found littered in the desert, seeing them as symbols of the southwest. She began to collect these vestiges--stones and bones worn by wind and water--skulls, horns, vertebrae and pelvises of deer, antelopes, rams, horses and other animals. Marjorie Balge-Crozier has written that "O'Keeffe's interest in shapes first led her to notice the animal bones scattered across the New Mexico landscape and decide that they had something to say about the terrain. She began collecting them, and when she returned East, she brought back a barrel of bones. This became a standard procedure during the years that she traveled between New Mexico and New York. In August 1931, writing to Rebecca Salsbury James from Lake George, O'Keeffe says, 'I have been working on the trash I brought along--my bones cause much comment.'" ("still life redefined" in E.H. Turner, Georgia O'Keeffe: the poetry of things, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. 62)

    In 1939, O'Keeffe exhibited the first of her bone paintings, including Deer Horns, at her husband, Alfred Stieglitz's, gallery, An American Place. She wrote in a statement published in the exhibition catalogue how the bones had come to represent the very essence of the desert she so loved: "I have wanted to paint the desert and I haven't known how...So I brought home the bleached bones as my symbols of the desert. To me they are as beautiful as anything I know. To me they are strangely more living than animals walking around...The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the desert even tho' it is vast and empty and untouchable--and knows no kindness with all its beauty." (as quoted in Georgia O'Keeffe: the poetry of things, p. 62)

    In the present work O'Keeffe utilizes a crisp line and modulated tones of white, beige and orange to capture the various forms and textures of the skull and antlers, which reach like flames into the sky. Charles C. Eldredge writes of Deer Horns, "The flamboyant antlers, compressed within their narrow space, permitted O'Keeffe to explore formal contrasts, playing off the detailed volumes at the base with the flat pattern of the horn's tips. She often employed such juxtapositions of two- and three-dimensional shapes, especially in still-life subjects." (Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1991, p. 125) O'Keeffe has omitted extraneous detail to focus on the interrelation of the forms of her subject, alternately soft, voluptuous and curvilinear and austere and piercing. She sets the skull against a flat blue sky to further accentuate these forms and closely crops the composition, separating her subject from a larger context and creating an almost surreal composition. These characteristics of O'Keeffe's work were praised in a 1938 article in Life magazine, "O'Keeffe's magnificent sense of composition and subtle gradations of color on such ordinarily simple subjects as leaves and bones have made her the best-known woman painter in America today." ("Georgia O'Keeffe Turns Dead Bones To Live Art," Life, February 14, 1938)

    O'Keeffe and her fellow Stieglitz Circle artists spent the early decades of the twentieth century searching for a distinctly American mode of painting. For O'Keeffe, the skulls and bones became avatars of the New Mexico landscape with which she had become so enthralled, and symbolized many things to her--not only the cycles of life and death, but also the role animals played in the history of our country and the West particularly. In many ways, her highly original and moving investigations of these found objects and of the southwestern landscape became her contribution to the American idiom and a continuation of the tradition begun by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran and others. The continuing appeal for the viewer of paintings such as Deer Horns is not just their stark beauty, but also the unique, mysterious and spiritual character of the Southwest that they evoke.

    Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937. Oil on canvas, 36 x 40 1/8 in. (91.2 x 102 cm.). 2012 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York . Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1959 (59.204.2), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

    Life Magazine article on Georgia O'Keeffe, February 14, 1938. Text: Courtesy of Life magazine Time Warner Inc. Photograph: Ansel Adams, Georgia O'Keeffe and Carcass, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 1937. Copyright Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

    Georgia O'Keeffe at the entrance of her Abiquiu home with mounted elk horn on the wall, ca. 1967. Condé Nast Archive/Corbis.


    [With]The Downtown Gallery, New York.
    L.D. and Adelle Starr, Mamaroneck, New York, 1961.
    [With]Bernard Danenberg Galleries, New York.
    Phyllis Weil & Co., New York, 1975.
    [With]Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, 1978.
    [With]John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, California.
    Private collection, San Francisco, California, 1980.
    [With]John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco California.
    Katherine Tremaine, Santa Barbara, California, 1980.
    John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco and Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York.
    Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1986.


    E.A. Jewell, "Two Annuals Appraised: Contemporary Sculpture at the Whitney--Pennsylvania Academy Show Also Opens," The New York Times, January 29, 1939, p. X9, illustrated.
    An American Place, Georgia O'Keeffe: Exhibition of Oils and Pastels, exhibition checklist, New York, 1939.
    Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Recent Acquisitions of American Art 1769-1938, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1979, n.p., no. 48, illustrated.
    The Albuquerque Museum, Here and Now: 35 Artists in New Mexico, exhibition catalogue, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1980, n.p., illustrated.
    P.J. Broder, The American West: The Modern Vision, Boston, Massachusetts, 1984, p. 164, illustrated.
    Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Georgia O'Keeffe: Selected Paintings and Works on Paper, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1986, n.p., no. 21, illustrated.
    Gerald Peters Gallery, Georgia O'Keeffe: Selected Paintings and Works on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Dallas, Texas, 1986, n.p., no. 21, illustrated.
    C.C. Eldredge, Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1991, pp. 125-26, illustrated.
    B.B. Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, p. 586, no. 941, illustrated.


    New York, An American Place, Georgia O'Keeffe: Exhibition of Oils and Pastels, January 22-March 17, 1939, no. 18.
    Ogunquit, Maine, Museum of Art of Ogunquit, Seventh Annual Exhibition, June 27-September 10, 1959, no. 23.
    New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Recent Acquisitions of American Art 1769-1938, 1979.
    Albuquerque, New Mexico, The Albuquerque Museum, Here and Now: 35 Artists in New Mexico, November 2, 1980-January 4, 1981.
    New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., and elsewhere, Georgia O'Keeffe: Selected Paintings and Works on Paper, April 26-June 6, 1986, no. 21.