Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
The Collection of Kippy Stroud
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)


Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
oil on board
8 1/8 x 5 7/8 in. (20.6 x 14.9 cm.)
Painted in 1923.
Private collection, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Harold Diamond, New York, by 1960.
[With]B.C. Holland, Inc., Chicago, Illinois.
Dr. Gerald Gurman, Chicago, Illinois, acquired from the above, 1960.
Estate of the above, 1977.
[With]Donald Morris Gallery, Inc., Birmingham, Michigan.
Harold Diamond, New York, acquired from the above, 1977.
Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Elaine Horwitch Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona, acquired from the above, 1977.
Private collection, New York, acquired from the above, 1978.
Christie's, New York, 2 December 2004, lot 111.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
B.B. Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, vol. I, p. 223, vol. II, p. 1115, no. 412, fig. 25, illustrated.
New York, The Anderson Galleries, Alfred Stieglitz Presents Fifty-One Recent Pictures: Oils, Water-colors, Pastels, Drawings by Georgia O'Keeffe, American, March 3-16, 1924, one of nos. 49-50 (as Figs).
West Palm Beach, Florida, Norton Museum of Art; Santa Fe, New Mexico, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum; Minneapolis, Minnesota, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Georgia O'Keeffe: Circling Around Abstraction, February 10, 2007-January 6, 2008, p. 132, no. 16, illustrated.

Lot Essay

Fig belongs to a series of fruit and vegetable still lifes that Georgia O’Keeffe painted in the 1920s, arising from her time spent with Alfred Stieglitz on Lake George, New York. Following a period of experimentation with abstract design, O’Keeffe returned to the still life tradition, which she had studied under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League from 1907 to 1908. Chase taught her the basics of still life painting, while also encouraging her to closely observe objects and to experiment with new methods of representation.

In Fig, O’Keeffe has isolated her subject and rendered it in a limited but richly nuanced palette of whites and purples. The deep, dark hues of the fig are starkly contrasted by the modulated white background that is purposefully flattened, thrusting the primary subject forward towards the viewer. The resulting image evokes the medium of photography with its limited palette and composition. Though O’Keeffe denied the direct influence of photography, the impact of the medium in her enlarged and cropped compositions is evident. Charles C. Eldridge writes, “Sometimes the simple compositions of fruit were treated in near monochromes of a photographic palette…which exploits the pure, clean form of the fruit isolated on a smooth, white cloth.” (Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, 1991, p. 62)

O’Keeffe’s single forms, such as Fig, are often linked with the work of photographer Paul Strand, who as early as 1916 photographed bowls and porch shadows isolated from their surroundings. Strand was also a member of Stieglitz’s circle, a close friend of the artist and personally owned at least two other still lifes by O'Keeffe from this period. Another likely source of inspiration for these close-up studies of nature were the photo portraits of Stieglitz, whose work often focused on particularly close-up views of O’Keeffe’s body, such as her hands and torso.

With the fig serving as a symbol of abundance and fertility, the present work subtly alludes to the female form and perhaps also to O’Keeffe’s own desire for a child at this early stage in her life. Although O’Keeffe made a conscious return to representational painting for her affirming Anderson Gallery exhibition of 1924, in which the present work was included, she had clearly not abandoned her commitment to celebrating the natural form through abstraction.

Fig reflects the pictorial strategies that O’Keeffe developed as an avant-garde American Modernist at this formative period in her career. The present work is at once an objective interpretation of fruit, as well as a meditation on form and color. Monumental and intimate at the same time, Fig reflects the artist's formal concerns with her natural subject.

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