Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
Property Sold to Benefit The Foundation for Community Empowerment
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

My Back Yard

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
My Back Yard
signed 'Georgia O'Keeffe' (on a piece of the original backing affixed to the reverse)
oil on canvas
18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1943.
The artist.
Claudia O'Keeffe, sister of the above, Beverly Hills, California, gift from the above.
[With]Jean Seth, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Private collection, Aspen, Colorado, 1975.
[With]Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Private collection, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1987.
[With]Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1992.
An American Place, Paintings--1942-43, exhibition pamphlet, New York, 1943, no. 9.
An American Place, Georgia O'Keeffe: Paintings--1944, exhibition pamphlet, New York, 1945, no. 14 (as My backyard).
Seibu Museum of Art, Georgia O'Keeffe, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo, Japan, 1988, pp. 72-73, no. 30, illustrated.
Denver Art Museum, The Western Spirit: Exploring New Territory in American Art, exhibition catalogue, Denver, Colorado, 1989, p. 114-15, illustrated.
R. Robinson, Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life, New York, 1989, p. 415 (as My backyard).
B.B. Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, p. 664, no. 1059, illustrated.
New York, An American Place, Paintings--1942-43, March 27-May 22, 1943, no. 9.
New York, An American Place, Georgia O'Keeffe: Paintings--1944, January 22-March 22, 1945, no. 14 (as My backyard).
Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum, and elsewhere, Georgia O'Keeffe: Selected Paintings, April 15-June 15, 1988.
Denver, Colorado, The Denver Art Museum, The Western Spirit: Exploring New Territory in American Art, February 25-April 30, 1989.

Lot Essay

As is true of Georgia O'Keeffe's finest works, the strength of My Back Yard lies in its careful balance of realism and abstraction, its intricate layering of objective and subjective meaning and its wonderful synthesis of form and color. 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)

The distinct hills and mesas were the first scenes O'Keeffe painted upon her arrival in New Mexico and she returned to the subject time and again. She famously captured the rugged Southwestern topography in works such as My Back Yard with a modern style, emphasizing its undulating forms, crystalline light and brilliant colors. O'Keeffe felt a close connection to the New Mexico landscape and the present work manifests the intense spirituality and wonder that she associated with the place.
Painted in 1943, My Back Yard, is one of an important group of works that depict the red and yellow cliffs near O'Keeffe's home in Abiquiu, Ghost Ranch. She wrote to her good friend and fellow artist, Arthur Dove, the previous fall, "I wish you could see what I see out the window--the earth pink and yellow cliffs to the north--the full pale moon about to go down in an early morning lavender sky behind a very long beautiful tree covered mesa to the west--pink and purple hills in front and the scrubby fine dull green cedars--I wish you could see it." (September 1942 letter quoted in J. Cowat, J. Hamilton, Georgia O'Keeffe: Art and Letters, Washington, D.C., 1987, p. 233)

In My Back Yard, O'Keeffe, incorporates the natural world as well as the abstract one, reflecting 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. She utilizes a high horizon line, semi-abstracted forms and wonderfully modulated hues to emphasize the monumental and spiritual qualities of the desert. 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)

In My Back Yard, she pushes the landscape toward the top of the canvas, transforming the layered mesas into abstract, undulating bands of color--these shades of tan, yellow, pink and green, reflecting the variegated and changing colors of the desert. The crisp outlines and subtle modeling of forms simultaneously creates a sense of sculptural depth and of flattened design. Composed of brilliant and varying hues, My Back Yard is also testament to O'Keeffe's passion for color. Throughout her career, color remained as important to her artistic spirit as form and content. In 1930, she wrote, "Color is one of the great things in the world that makes life worth living to me and as I have come to think of painting it is my effort to create an equivalent with paint color for the world--life as I see it." (Georgia O'Keeffe: Art and Letters, p. 202) 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."

My Back Yard 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 she so loved 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.

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