GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887-1986)
GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887-1986)
GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887-1986)
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GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887-1986)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887-1986)

Black Iris VI

GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887-1986)
Black Iris VI
signed with initials ‘OK’ in the artist’s star device (on a piece of the original backing)
oil on canvas
36 x 24 in. (91.4 x 60.9 cm.)
Painted in 1936
An American Place, New York.
Mrs. Jacob Gould Schurman III, San Francisco (acquired from the above, 1946); Estate sale, Christie's, New York, 21 May 1998, lot 199.
Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis, Minnesota (acquired from the above).
Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2001.
N. Calloway, "Georgia O'Keeffe: One Hundred Flowers" in Artspace: Southwestern Contemporary Arts Quarterly, vol. 12, no. 1, Winter 1987-1988, p. 26 (illustrated in color; titled Black Iris II (Black Iris VI)).
N. Calloway, Georgia O'Keeffe: One Hundred Flowers, New York, 1989, no. 34 (illustrated in color; titled Black Iris II [Black Iris VI]).
B.B. Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, 1999, vol. I, p. 551, no. 885 (illustrated in color).
S. Niederman, Explorer’s Guide: The Santa Fe & Taos Book, Woodstock, Vermont, 2006, p. 104 (illustrated).
N. Mikula, Top 10 Santa Fe, Taos, & Albuquerque, New York, 2008, pp. 15 and 126 (illustrated in color).
New York, An American Place, Georgia O'Keeffe: New Paintings, February-March 1937, no. 9 (titled Black Iris—VI).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, After Surrealism, February-March 1959.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Modern Masters in West Coast Collections: An Exhibition Selected in Celebration of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the San Francisco Museum of Art, October-November 1960.
Des Moines Art Center, Shifting Visions: O'Keeffe, Guston, Richter, October 1998-January 1999.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol: Flowers of Distinction, May 2005-January 2006, pp. 46 and 75, no. 18 (illustrated in color).
Portland Art Museum; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; New Orleans Museum of Art and Seattle Art Museum, Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, October 2015-May 2017, pp. 122-23 (illustrated in color).
Seattle Art Museum, Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstract Variations, March-June 2020, pp. 47 and 62 (illustrated in color, p. 47, pl. 9).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

“It was the flowers that begat the O'Keeffe legend in the heady climate of the 1920s,” declares publisher Nicholas Callaway, and indeed Georgia O’Keeffe has been a sensation since the debut exhibition of her flower paintings in 1923 (One Hundred Flowers, New York, 1987, n.p.). Their sensuous beauty magnified to large scale has attracted both admiration and notoriety for the artist. Among her most famous and powerful flower subjects is the black iris.
The artist painted only seven known oils of this flower between 1926 and 1936. This series includes not only the present work but also one of the most celebrated paintings of her entire career—Black Iris (The Dark Iris No. III) of 1926 in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Her dealer and husband Alfred Stieglitz described the Metropolitan Museum’s Black Iris as “the greatest picture in the world. To me it is second to none. You know that I don’t know any I’d take for it” (quoted in S. Greenough, ed., My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, New Haven, 2011, p. 725). Apart from that work, the present painting is O’Keeffe’s largest representation of the black iris and, dating from 1936, is also among her final depictions of the subject—representing the culmination of her exploration of this iconic motif.
O’Keeffe’s innovative renderings of flowers evolved from a passion for sharing through her work the intimate details of nature that she believed many overlooked. She began painting her flower pictures in 1918, and by 1924 her floral subjects exploded into a sensation in the art world. Lloyd Goodrich explains, “In the flower paintings nature’s organisms often bore sexual associations. The forms were flower forms, but they also suggested the forms of the body, its subtle lines, its curves and folds and hidden depths; and the colors and textures recalled the fineness and bloom and delicate colors of flesh. This ambivalence of imagery, which is characteristic of O’Keeffe and part of the depth and power of this art, this sexual magnetism beneath the visible forms, added to the spell and mystery of her flower paintings, and made them among her most sensitive and living creations” (Georgia O’Keeffe, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1970, p. 18).
While O’Keeffe always denied such connotations, her series of iris paintings, including Black Iris VI, seems to particularly play with this sense of daring ambiguity. When she debuted The Met’s Black Iris at her January 1927 show at The Intimate Gallery, it shocked and titillated viewers; Stieglitz claimed there were 9,000 visitors in 42 days. Hunter Drohojowska-Philp describes, “Black Iris…nearly covered the wall of the gallery with its fuzzed, darkened open mouth, extended tongue, and arched petals…Black Iris is one of the most sexually charged of all of O’Keeffe’s floral pictures…[contemporary critic Mumford] wrote that her symbolism ‘touches primarily on the experiences of love and passion,’ that she had ‘found a language for experiences that are otherwise too intimate to be shared’” (Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, 2005, pp. 273-74).
The subject of the black iris was a deliberate choice for O’Keeffe, as the variety was only available in New York flower shops for two weeks each year. When she moved to the Southwest, she even tried to find a bulb to plant in her own garden, but was unable to secure one. In addition to the famed Met work, the series includes The Black Iris (The Dark Iris No. II) of 1926 and the pastel Dark Iris No. III of 1927, both in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, as well as Dark Iris (Dark Iris No. 1) of 1927 in the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center. The present version is among the most powerful in the series, executed in large scale with the dark center of the iris directly positioned in the middle of the composition. The delicate petals of the flower range in color from deep purple to the softest pale pink, creating a gradient down the canvas and drawing the viewer into the picture. The hint of green stem at lower center keeps the painting grounded in nature. Yet, at the same time, the background of soft whites and grays envelops the flower, with the organic forms dissolving at their edges into an abstract play with analogous shades of color.
As reflected in Black Iris VI, for O’Keeffe, the flower was a tool through which she could explore varying languages of abstraction and representation, responding to nature as opposed to her inner self. Barbara Buhler Lynes writes, “O’Keeffe celebrated the sensuality and sexuality of the natural world. Seeing O’Keeffe’s flower paintings as manifestations of her sexuality—as depictions of her sexual anatomy—or as an attempt to convey the nature of womanhood misses her point. The highly charged, vital, androgynous reality of flowers that O’Keeffe depicted in her work is presented in beautiful forms that are sensual, sexual, and simultaneously powerful and delicate—forms both vulnerable and strong in which she invites us to confront and celebrate the animate, vital, androgynous forces of nature.” (“Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction Nature,” The Scharf Collection: A History Revealed, New York, 2018, p. 140)
Nonetheless, her flower paintings have long established O’Keeffe among the most important female painters in art history. In fact, she is the last woman featured in Judy Chicago’s iconic feminist installation The Dinner Party (1974-79) at The Brooklyn Museum, playing homage to O’Keeffe as “pivotal in the development of an authentically female iconography” and the last in a line of powerful women dating back to the “Primordial Goddess.” (Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation, New York, 2007, p. 257) Chicago’s reference image for the O’Keeffe place setting was none other than the Met’s Black Iris.
The Black Iris series, and the present work, are among the most influential works in O’Keeffe’s career, and moreover in 20th century culture, paving the way for other female artists, especially those exploring sexuality such as Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama, Tracey Emin or most recently Loie Hollowell. These powerful, self-confident compositions have inspired countless artists of following generations as they seek their own place within not just the pantheon of great female artists, but—as O’Keeffe has—within the annals of art history overall.

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