By 1918, when this portrait was made, Alfred Stieglitz was fifty-four years old and had already changed the history of American art. He had founded and edited two important photography journals, Camera Notes and Camera Work. He had established the influential Photo-Secession in 1902 and exhibited leading art photography in a major art museum, the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo in 1910. In his gallery ‘291’ he presented for the first time in America the most advanced European art by such artists as Cezanne, Rodin and Picasso prior to the 1913 Armory Show. In 1917, he had discovered, exhibited and published the first abstract and modernist photography of Paul Strand. With the close of his gallery and the demise of Camera Work he was poised for a whole new chapter in his life. Stieglitz had seen and exhibited Georgia O’Keeffe’s work a couple of years before, but when he invited her in June 1918 to live with him at his family home in Lake George, New York, thus began one of the most fertile love affairs in American art.
Stieglitz had found his muse and O’Keeffe had found her benefactor. Stieglitz began the most prolific period of photographing in his entire life. It is as though he had to start over, to learn how to photograph again, in order to discover how to see and portray his new world. He photographed O’Keeffe incessantly. Stieglitz was so taken by her that he wrote to Arthur Dove in 1918, “O’Keeffe is a constant source of wonder to me, like Nature itself.” (quoted in Arrowsmith and West, eds., Two Lives: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: A Conversation in Paintings and Photographs, Callaway Editions/The Phillips Collection, 1992, p. 56.)
Alfred Stieglitz conceived of composite portraits of individuals that would consist of hundreds of photographs made over a lifetime. His most complete of such portrait concepts is of Georgia O’Keeffe and comprises over 300 finished photographs made over a period of twenty years. Relatively early in the series, Stieglitz used every square inch of this photograph to portray his subject. Posed in front of one of her charcoal drawings he devotes as much of the composition to her hands as to her face. There is a sensuous quality to the portrayal -- evidence of the shared passion of artist and model. Stieglitz scholar Sarah Greenough wrote about this collaboration, ‘Almost as soon as O’Keeffe arrived in New York from Texas on 9 June 1918 Stieglitz began photographing her with what she later described as ‘a kind of heat and excitement.’ ... As his studies of her evolved, they became less about O’Keeffe as an artist and more about her as a woman and lover, and of the sexual passion they shared. ... He photographed her like the lover that he was, entranced with every inch of his beloved, but also studied her like a painter or sculptor analyzing every inch of a model’s body to understand how to portray the whole more accurately, as, for example, Rodin did.’ (Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set, p. xxxv.)
This print is mounted to a second platinum print of another portrait of O’Keeffe. It was relatively common practice for Stieglitz to mount one print to another imperfect one for a more substantial support.
According to Greenough’s authoritative reference, The Key Set, only ten prints of this negative have been recorded. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles each hold a platinum and a silver print. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a palladium print. The Museum of New Mexico, Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe has a platinum print and three other platinum prints are in an unidentified private collection.
The present lot is the only known print of this image to come to market from the Estate of Georgia O'Keeffe.