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

Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds
oil on canvas
20 x 30 in. (50.8 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1936.
The artist.
[With]Doris Bry, New York.
Private collection, New York, 1968.
[With]Doris Bry, New York.
Private collection, Alpine, New Jersey, acquired from the above, circa 1985.
Sotheby’s, New York, 21 May 2003, lot 119, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
D. Bry, N. Callaway, Georgia O'Keeffe in the West, New York, 1989, n.p., no. 31, illustrated.
B.B. Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, vol. I, p. 561, vol. II, p. 1128, no. 899, fig. 67, illustrated.
H. Drohojowska-Philp, Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 2004, p. 364.
N.H. Reily, Georgia O'Keeffe, A Private Friendship, Part I: Walking the Sun Prairie Land, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2007, p. 358.
B.B. Lynes, ed., Georgia O'Keeffe, exhibition catalogue, Milano, Italy, 2009, p. 17, fig. 5, illustrated.
J.F. VanVoorst, What's Great About New Mexico?, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2015, pp. 14-15, illustrated.
J. Souter, O'Keeffe, New York, 2016, n.p., illustrated.
New York, An American Place, Georgia O’Keeffe: The 14th Annual Exhibition of Paintings with Some Recent O’Keeffe Letters, December 27, 1937-February 11, 1938, no. 24.
Zu¨rich, Switzerland, Kunsthaus Zu¨rich, Georgia O'Keeffe, October 24, 2003-February 1, 2004, pp. 108, 194, no. 42, illustrated.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art; Wilmington, Delaware, Delaware Art Museum, Georgia O’Keeffe and New Mexico: A Sense of Place, June 11, 2004-May 15, 2005, pp. 98-99, 131, no. 27, pl. 42, illustrated.

Lot Essay

Georgia O’Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1929, travelling with her close friend Rebecca James, and was immediately drawn to the vast beauty and rich color of the distinct hills and mesas. Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds depicts the rugged terrain, with its undulating forms, crystalline light and brilliant colors. The crisp outlines and subtle modeling of forms simultaneously create a sense of sculptural depth and of flattened design. Meanwhile, the Southwestern light enabled O'Keeffe to see clearly over great distances, and the horizontal format of Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds conveys a striking sense of the region’s expansive panoramic views. Lloyd Goodrich wrote of O'Keeffe's celebrated depictions of the New Mexico landscape, "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)

After her initial visit, O’Keeffe made almost annual trips to New Mexico, painting in relative solitude for up to six months, then returning to New York each winter to exhibit her new works at An American Place, Alfred Stieglitz's gallery. In short order her views of the Southwest became as well-known as her magnified flower paintings. In 1940, O’Keeffe purchased a house at Ghost Ranch in the Chama River Valley approximately 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe. In 1945 she bought another house in Abiquiu and the property at Ghost Ranch was used exclusively during the summer and fall. She moved to New Mexico permanently in 1949.

The present work depicts Cerro Pedernal, Spanish for “flint hill”, or simply Pedernal, which is located nearly five miles west of Ghost Ranch and was a source of constant fascination for O’Keeffe. Covered with dark green pines and deciduous trees, the top of the mesa is nearly ten thousand feet above sea level and has been worn to an odd angle by erosion. The Navajos believed it was the place where their legendary "Changing Woman," the mother of the Navajo clans and an important figure in Native American history, was born. Infatuated by the form and stimulated by the spirituality of the site, O'Keeffe began to use the mesa as a motif. She spiritedly expressed her love of this natural landmark when she declared, "It's my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it." (as quoted in L. Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1980, p. 235)

Her spiritual connection with this mountain is embodied in Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds, where O'Keeffe utilizes semi-abstracted forms and wonderfully modulated hues to emphasize the monumental and mystical qualities of the desert site. Incorporating the natural world as well as the abstract one, the painting reflects the pictorial strategies that she had developed earlier in her career--an interest in a type of heightened realism that pushes an image to the edge of abstraction. O'Keeffe wrote of her approach, "I long ago came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing that I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at--not copy it." (as quoted in M.P. Balge-Crozier, "Still Life Redefined" in Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. 69) Composed of brilliant and varying hues, Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds is also testament to O'Keeffe's passion for color and her unique ability to capture the dramatic and transitory hues of the Southwest. Much of O'Keeffe's philosophy about the use of color was inspired by Wassily Kandinsky's theories; the Russian artist claimed that "color directly influences the soul."

Many other American modernists were drawn to the grandeur of the New Mexico landscape, but none were able to capture its expanse, mystical spirituality and light as effectively and with as much emotion as O’Keeffe. Marsden Hartley, another member of Stieglitz’s circle and a close friend of O’Keeffe’s, travelled to New Mexico from June 1918 to the fall of 1919. His New Mexico (Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine) from 1919 depicts a similar subject to Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds; however, it is more stylized and expressionistic than O’Keeffe’s interpretation of the landscape. Stuart Davis visited Santa Fe in the summer of 1923. Unlike O’Keeffe, Davis was overwhelmed and challenged by the vast expanse of open space. His New Mexican Landscape (Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas) from that year lacks the excitement and feeling of his New York and New England paintings.

Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds embodies O'Keeffe's lifelong fascination with the shapes and colors that she found in nature as well as her close connection to the American Southwest. In this painting, she masterfully captures the vastness and beauty of the New Mexico landscape with her innovative treatment of light, color and form. Here she embraces the natural world in a vision that is a strikingly modern continuation of the American landscape tradition--a manifestation of the spiritual power of the sublime.

Red Hills with Pedernal, White Clouds relates closely to Red Hills with the Pedernal (1936, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York) and Pedernal with Red Hills (1936, New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico).

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