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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PROPERTY FROM THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON
GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887-1986)

A Sunflower from Maggie

Details
GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887-1986)
A Sunflower from Maggie
oil on canvas
16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted in 1937.
Provenance
The Downtown Gallery, New York
Robert Q. Lewis, Los Angeles, 1962
The Downtown Gallery, New York
The artist, 1963
Estate of the artist
Bequest from the above to the present owner, 1987
Literature
D.M. Brownstone and I.M. Franck, Timelines of the Arts and Literature, New York, 1994, p. 434.
B.B. Lynes, Georgia O’Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, 1999, vol. I, p. 574, no. 922 (illustrated).
L. Poling-Kempes, Ghost Ranch, Tucson, 2005, p. 125.
N.H. Reily, Georgia O'Keeffe: A Private Friendship, Part II, Walking the Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch Land, Santa Fe, 2009, p. 231.
Exhibited
New York, An American Place, Georgia O'Keeffe: The 14th Annual Exhibition of Paintings With Some Recent O'Keeffe Letters, December 1937-February 1938, no. 22 (as A Sun Flower from Maggie).
Milwaukee Art Museum; Santa Fe, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum; Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, O'Keeffe's O'Keeffes: The Artist's Collection, May 2001-May 2002, pp. 37, 40, 50, 170, 174, 181, pl. 48 (illustrated).
Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Georgia O'Keeffe: Visions of the Sublime, July-October 2004.
Jacksonville, The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts; Nashville, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Georgia O'Keeffe and Her Times: Modern Masters from the Lane Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, February 2009-January 2010.
Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art; Athens, Theocharkis Foundation for the Fine Arts, Art of the Still Life, September 2011-January 2013.
Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Sisters in Art: Women Painters and Designers, May-September 2013, pp. 73, 116.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Senior Vice President, Co-head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Georgia O’Keeffe’s A Sunflower From Maggie is one of only six paintings of sunflowers that the artist produced in her long and distinguished career. Painted in 1937, it is a dazzling example of the still-life paintings that were the basis of much of her subsequent oeuvre as she sought to occupy and explore the space between abstraction and figuration.

Set against a warm salmon-colored background, vibrant yellow petals radiate out from the center, piercing the picture plane like rays from a scorching sun. These organic elements are resplendent examples of O’Keeffe’s understanding of, and affinity with, nature. Yet, the swirling rosettes of painterly dots in the center also demonstrate how she painted with abstraction firmly in at forefront of her mind, and with an eye to European Modernism in particular. Her highly sophisticated depiction of light and shadow gives her ostentatiously two-dimensional subject matter a depth and authenticity that gives it a palpable sense of three-dimensional form.

O’Keeffe began painting her flower pictures in 1918, and they were shown for the first time by her partner at the time, the photographer and avant-garde gallery owner, Alfred Stieglitz in 1923. With paintings such as A Sunflower from Maggie, O’Keeffe sought not to merely reproduce the physical attributes of her subject matter, but also a deeper, more emotional connection. "I long ago came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing that I saw and enjoyed,” she wrote, “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" (G. O’Keeffe, quoted in M.P. Balge-Crozier, "Still Life Redefined" in Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. 69).

Throughout her career the artist was fascinated by natural forms and her love of physical objects from nature can be seen in various depictions from sensuous shells to striking flowers. Whatever the object, O’Keeffe found beauty in it, isolated it from the world of ordinary reality and gave it new significance. As she does in her best works, here O’Keeffe relies on color to define form and create structural depth, in the process transforming the seemingly ordinary sunflower into a shock of intense yellow and gold. As a student of Arthur Wesley Dow, the artist was influenced by his teachings of what was known to his students as the trinity of power: line, color, and notan—the Japanese concept of using balanced values of lights and darks. These ideas were further reinforced through her own readings of modern art theory and through her close relationship with Alfred Stieglitz and other Modernist artists. The importance of line, shadowing, and use of color can all be seen in the present work.

While many of her Modernist contemporaries turned to the industrial urban landscape to define their new artistic language, O’Keeffe embraced the natural world. “O’Keeffe’s work, a counter-response to technology, was soft, voluptuous and intimate. Full rapturous colors and yielding surfaces, it furnishes a sense of astonishing discovery… Though the work is explicitly feminine, it is convincingly and triumphantly powerful, a combination that had not existed before” (R. Robinson, Georgia O’Keeffe: A life, New York, 1989, p. 278).

A Sunflower From Maggie is such a painting. The title refers to O'Keeffe's friend, Margaret Johnson, wife of Robert Wood Johnson, then president of the pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson who owned a house near O'Keeffe’s ranch in New Mexico. One morning Maggie visited O’Keeffe, bringing with her a bright yellow sunflower. So entranced was the artist by the flower that she immediately used it as the subject for a new painting. A few days later, Maggie returned to the ranch with her five-year-old nephew, Seward Johnson Jr. The young child was enamored by the artist and was keen to show her his collection of objects that he’d acquired on his walks through the New Mexico countryside. Keen to play along, O’Keeffe offered to swap an object she owned for something in Seward’s collection. She particularly liked a piece of mica that the young child had showed her, and in return she offered the sunflower that was the subject of her painting (the present work), “She had just finished a painting of a sunflower. But instead of the painting, she came back to me with the sunflower, the ‘model.’ O’Keeffe tied a handkerchief around it and gave the sunflower to me.” Forty years later, Seward met O’Keeffe again and recalled the story asking if she remembered? “O’Keeffe got a twinkle in her eye, and nodded and laughed” (S. Johnson Jr., quoted by L. Poling-Kempes, Ghost Ranch, Tucson, 2005, p. 2005).

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