Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

Red Hills with White Cloud

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
Red Hills with White Cloud
signed and inscribed 'For Sally and Mitchell Wilder from Georgia and the McDermotts' on the backing
oil on canvas
6 x 7in. (15.3 x 17.8cm.)
Mr. and Mrs. Eugene McDermott, Dallas, Texas, acquired directly from the artist
Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell A. Wilder, Fort Worth, Texas
James Maroney, Inc., New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Art in America, January 1981
J.G. Castro, The Art and Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1985, pp. 164-65, illus.
D. Bry and N. Callaway, Eds, Georgia O'Keeffe In the West, New York, 1989, p. 2, illus.
Worcester, Massachusetts, The Worcester Art Museum, An Exhibition by Georgia O'Keeffe, October-December 1960, no. 19
Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Georgia O'Keeffe, an Exhibition of the Work of the Artist from 1915 to 1966, March-May 1966, unnumbered
San Antonio, Texas, McNay Art Institute, Georgia O'Keeffe, October-November 1975, no. 21

Lot Essay

Georgia O'Keeffe painted Red Hills with White Cloud in 1937 while staying at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, New Mexico. At this point in her career O'Keeffe was making annual visits to the Southwest and had firmly established her reputation as the leading American Modernist within the Stieglitz circle. A fiercely independent and innovative artist, O'Keeffe expressed the unique qualities of the American landscape in a highly personal style.

Whereas many of O'Keeffe's canvases invoke the expansiveness and emptiness of the desert, Red Hills with White Cloud reveals the intimate and personal qualities that the painter found in the landscape of the Southwest. In the catalogue of her January 1939 exhibition she wrote, "A flower touches almost everyone's heart. A red hill doesn't touch everyone's heart as it touches mine and I suppose there is no reason why it should. The red hill is a piece of the bad lands where even the grass is gone. Bad lands roll away outside my door--hill after hill--red hills of apparently the same sort of earth that you mix with oil to make paint. All the earth colors of the painter's palette are out there in the many miles of bad lands. The light Naples yellow through the ochres--orange and red and purple earth--even the soft earth greens. You have no associations with those hills--our waste land--I think our most beautiful country."

The diminutive scale of Red Hills with White Cloud is enchanting. The painting's intimate size suggests that it served as a personal remembrance of the Southwest--as if O'Keeffe had encapsulated the monumentality and purity of the place and then presented it as a gift to the viewer. Indeed the painting did serve such as a purpose, as the artist and the painting's first owner presented the painting to Mitchell Wilder, the former director of the Amon Carter Museum, and his wife Sally. Sally Wilder, noted, "To me, one of her fortes is scale. . . She compressed the vastness of New Mexico into that tiny painting [Red Hills with White Cloud]. That is the greatness of that use of scale."

Describing O'Keeffe's work in the Southwest, Lloyd Goodrich has written, "She never tires of painting it. The Southwest has been painted often--but often badly, by artists who believe that a beautiful subject produces a beautiful picture. But O'Keeffe translates this landscape into the language of art. She models the hills so that they possess substance and weight. She carves their intricate folded and furrowed forms into powerful sculptural creations. The unbelievable colors of the desert are recorded without sweetening, in full-bodied earthy harmonies. Always her desert poetry is embodied in robust physical language, speaking to her senses." (Georgia O'Keeffe Retrospective Exhibition, New York, 1970, p. 22)

This painting will be considered for inclusion in the forthcoming catalogue raisonn of the artist's work, a joint project of the National Gallery of Art and Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation with the assistance of the Burnett Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation. Author: Barbara Buhler Lynes.