Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
Property from the Estate of Eugene V. Thaw
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

Black Door with Snow

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
Black Door with Snow
signed with initials and dated '1/16/53/OK' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
36 x 30 in. (91.4 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1953-1955.
[With]The Downtown Gallery, New York.
Private collection, New York, 1963.
[With]The Downtown Gallery, New York.
The artist, 1964.
Estate of the above, 1986.
Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1987.
Private collection, Fort Worth, Texas, 1987.
[With]Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Acquired by the late owner from the above, 1989.
B.B. Lynes, Georgia O’Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, p. 804, no. 1279, illustrated.
H. Drohojowska-Philp, Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 2004, p. 459.
D. Abrams, Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 2009, p. 107, illustrated.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, O'Keeffe Exhibition: New Paintings, March 29-April 23, 1955, no. 17.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, Spring 1955, April 26-May 21, 1955, no. 5.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Annual Exhibition, Sculpture, Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, November 14, 1956-January 6, 1957, no. 133.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, New Mexico: As Painted by Stuart Davis, Marsden Hartley, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe, John Sloan, February 3-March 30, 1957, no. 26.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The One Hundred and Fifth-Third Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, January 26-February 23, 1958.
Iowa City, Iowa, University of Iowa, June-August 1958.
Ogunquit, Maine, Ogunquit Museum of Art, Seventh Annual Exhibition, June 27-September 10, 1959.
New York, Decorative Arts Center, Art in America, December 6-23, 1961.
Wilmington, Delaware, Wilmington Society of Fine Arts, A Stieglitz Group: Bluemner, Demuth, Dove, Hartley, Marin, O'Keefe, Weber, March 30-April 30, 1961.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Louisville, Kentucky, J.B. Speed Art Museum; Quincy, Illinois, Quincy Art Club; Seattle, Washington, Charles and Emma Frye Art Museum; Eugene, Oregon, University of Oregon; Boise, Idaho, Boise Art Association; Allentown, Pennsylvania, Allentown Art Museum; Charleston, South Carolina, Gibbes Art Gallery; Memphis, Tennessee, Brooks Memorial Art Gallery; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Public Library of Winston-Salem and Forsyth Country; Durham, North Carolina, Duke University; Rochester, New York, Memorial Art Gallery; Rock Island, Illinois, Augustana College; Newport Beach, California, Fine Arts Patrons of Newport Harbor, The Stieglitz Circle, October 6, 1962-June 19, 1963.
East Hampton, New York, Guild Hall, Then and Now, July 21-August 11, 1963.
Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum; Tokyo, Japan, Seibu Museum; Osaka, Japan, Seibu Museum; Aspen, Colorado, Aspen Art Museum, Georgia O'Keeffe: Selected Paintings, April 15, 1988-February 12, 1989, no. 36.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Georgia O'Keeffe: An Intimate View, September 22-November 26, 1989, no. 24.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Museum; Santa Fe, New Mexico, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum; Humlebaek, Denmark, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, O'Keeffe's O'Keeffes: The Artist's Collection, May 4, 2001-May 20, 2002, pp. 51, 170, 175, 183, pl. 53, illustrated.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction, May 28-September 10, 2010, pp. 171, 220, 232, fig. 35, illustrated.

Lot Essay

Throughout her career, from her early works on paper to her famous flowers, leafs and colorful landscapes, Georgia O’Keeffe delighted in the fine line designating the boundaries of representational art, playing with color and shape to create works that are at once recognizable and yet tantalizingly elusive. In her mid-century Patio series, including the present work Black Door with Snow, this duality is absolutely paramount. Working with the sharp geometry of man-made architecture, her forms are linear and planar to an unprecedented extent, exchanging curving hills and petals for sharp diagonals and fields of contrasting color. Yet, in Black Door with Snow, her keen attention to the effects of light and appreciation for the little details of nature add dimension beyond the flatness of the picture plane, with snowflakes interrupting the blank walls and adding uneven edges to the geometric arrangement. As a result, “She maintains a delicate balance between the objective and the abstract that keeps the work in the present and always accessible.” (M.P. Balge-Crozier, Georgia O’Keeffe: The Poetry of Things, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. 74)

In 1945, O’Keeffe purchased a 5,000 square-foot Spanish Colonial residential compound in Abiquiu, New Mexico, which became known as her ‘big house.’ With beautiful views of the Chama River Valley, extensive grounds and close proximity to her home at Ghost Ranch, the ruins of the property immediately attracted O’Keeffe and provided an ideal location for her to winter in the Southwest. Spending years renovating before moving in 1949, the artist explained, “I did many things over. I didn’t want it to be Spanish; I didn’t want it to be Indian; I didn’t want it to be modern. I just wanted it to be my house.” (as quoted in W.M. Corn, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, exhibition catalogue, Brooklyn, New York, 2017, p. 187) One of her favorite parts of the house was the central patio, or plazuela, which was enclosed yet still exposed to nature, and featured a door into her little room, or salita, where she would prep canvases and store paintings. As O’Keeffe noted, “When I first saw the Abiquiu house it was a ruin with an adobe wall around the garden broken in a couple places by falling trees. As I climbed and walked about in the ruin I found a patio with a very pretty well house and bucket to draw up water. It was a good sized patio with a long wall with a door on one side. The wall with a door in it was something I had to have. It took me ten years to get it—three more years to fix up the house so I could live in it—and after that the wall with a door was painted many times.” (Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, 1976, n.p.)

The door would prove to be an endless source of inspiration for O’Keeffe, who executed twenty-two paintings of the subject between 1946 and 1960. Painted black, the entryway acts as a stark contrast for the earthy amber of the adobe walls, and O’Keeffe employed this feature to divide the compositional space in every one of her Patio paintings. Seventeen examples from the series are in public collections, including the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

While some of the works place the door as a square within a flat frontal plane, in Black Door with Snow, O’Keeffe approaches the wall from an angle, transforming the rectangular opening into a rhombus-like shape leading into an unknown void. The angled door post is mirrored by the edge of the flat-topped building, revealing a sliver of a gray winter’s sky in the upper left corner. At lower left, the paving stones of the patio pathway form a perpendicular line of smaller square shapes, creating a strong directional focus toward the center left edge of the composition that is the shadowed corner of the patio structure. As epitomized by the present composition, “Beauty of spacing and simplicity of design are the two major qualities that dominate the painting of Georgia O’Keeffe. They are also the dominant characteristics of her house in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Indeed, her house and her painting are all of a piece.” (L. Gilpin, “The Austerity of the Desert Pervades Her Home and Her Work,” House Beautiful, April 1963, p. 145)

Black Door with Snow is one of the most complex compositions of its type, as O’Keeffe uniquely complicates the simplicity of her architectural arrangement by including the effects of winter weather within her beloved scene. The patio area was open to the elements, as O’Keeffe poetically explained, “You’re in a square box. You see the sky over you, the ground beneath.” (as quoted in Georgia O’Keeffe: The Poetry of Things, p. 21) The fresh air breathed life into O’Keeffe’s compositions, and in the present work snowflakes flutter into the scene, lending the painting a sense of suspended movement literally frozen in time. These spots of pure white add a ragged, natural realism, and perhaps the presence of the artist herself, to the perfect structure. The white snow also accumulates unevenly along the lower edges of the walls and the terra-cotta pavement, blurring the clean edges and suggesting a sense of three-dimensionality within the two-dimensional picture plane. With this grounding in reality, the black emptiness of the door poses questions as a mysterious object of psychological contemplation, in addition to its purpose as a formal element of contrast. As seen in this example of her intriguing balance of minimalist abstraction and natural representation, “Objective abstraction gave O’Keeffe a way to make the things she represented her own, to make visible more than just the mechanical realism of a modern world that increasingly valued photographic vision. Her style could reveal the hidden realities of emotion, expression, desire, feeling—the psychological, subjective realm that painting could still call its own…O’Keeffe’s strength lies in the fact that she remains visual, wedded to the belief that color and shape can say more about her world than words can.” (Georgia O’Keeffe: The Poetry of Things, p. 74)

Inspired by the space in which O’Keeffe herself lived and worked, the Patio series particularly exudes this sense of personal meaning behind the beautifully arranged geometric composition, while presenting a vision of abstraction that anticipates the American art movements that would dominate the second half of the twentieth century. Charles C. Eldredge writes, “O’Keeffe in the Patio series responded to the building’s dramatic formal patterns. That the subject was her home doubtless added to its meaning for the artist as she explored compositional possibilities. Far more than a document of a domestic setting, however, the architectural subject inspired O’Keeffe’s brilliant formal design sense, flourishing over a decade of experimentation.” (Eloquent Objects: Georgia O’Keeffe and Still-Life Art in New Mexico, exhibition catalogue, Memphis, Tennessee, 2014, p. 95)

More from American Art

View All
View All