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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Modern Icons: Property from an Important Private Collection
GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887-1986)


GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887-1986)
watercolor on paper
15 3⁄4 x 10 7⁄8 in. (40 x 27.6 cm.)
Executed in 1917.
Harold Diamond, New York, 1976.
John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, California.
Gerald and Kathleen Peters, Santa Fe, New Mexico, acquired from the above, 1977.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2013.
S.W. Peters, Becoming O'Keeffe: The Early Years, New York, 1991, p. 193.
B.B. Lynes, Georgia O’Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, vol. I, p. 118, no. 208, illustrated.
Denver, Colorado, Denver Art Museum, Western States Biennial Exhibition, March 7-April 15, 1979.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, Museum of Fine Arts, Georgia O'Keeffe: Works on Paper, September 14-November 17, 1985, no. 9.
Houston, Texas, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Texas Landscape: 1900-1986, May 17-September 7, 1986, no. 75.
Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Chicago, Illinois, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The Hague, Netherlands, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985, November 23, 1986-November 22, 1987.
Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum; Tokyo, Japan, Seibu Museum; Osaka, Japan, Seibu Museum; Aspen, Colorado, Aspen Art Museum, Georgia O'Keeffe: Selected Painting, April 15, 1988-February 12, 1989, no. 2.
London, The Hayward Gallery; Mexico City, Mexico, El Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes; Yokohama, Japan, Yokohama Museum of Art, Georgia O'Keeffe: American & Modern, April 8, 1993-January 16, 1994, no. 10.
San Antonio, Texas, McNay Museum of Art, O'Keeffe and Texas, January 27-April 1, 1998, no. 25.
(Probably) Santa Fe, New Mexico, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, An Expanding Collection, April 11, 1998-March 28, 1999.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, University of Michigan Museum of Art; Fresno, California, Fresno Metropolitan Museum; Indianapolis, Indiana, Eiteljorg Museum; Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hunter Museum of American Art; Boise, Idaho, Boise Art Museum, Georgia O'Keeffe: Visions of the Sublime, July 10, 2004-September 12, 2005, pl. 7, illustrated.
West Palm Beach, Florida, Norton Museum of Art; Santa Fe, New Mexico, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum; Minneapolis, Minnesota, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Georgia O'Keeffe: Circling Around Abstraction, February 10, 2007-January 6, 2008, p. 131, no. 6, illustrated.
New York, Guggenheim Museum, The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989, January 30-April 19, 2009.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Santa Fe, New Mexico, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction, September 17, 2009-September 12, 2010, pp. 40, 227, pl. 32, illustrated.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

In 1916, a 29-year-old Georgia O'Keeffe made her professional debut at Alfred Stieglitz’s ‘291’ Gallery with a series of black and white charcoal drawings that remain among the most radical and pioneering examples of American Modernism. On the heels of this output, O’Keeffe spent that year and the following producing a group of bold watercolors, including the present work, which further explored the concept of pure abstraction. This rare and seminal body of works on paper produced between 1915 and 1917 are some of the earliest and most original abstract images in the history of American art. Painted during this critical moment of radical experimentation, Abstraction ranks among the artist’s most important works on paper from the genesis of O’Keeffe’s storied artistic career.

O’Keeffe moved to Canyon, Texas to teach at a local teacher’s college in August 1916 and stayed until February 1918. While in Canyon, O’Keeffe painted some of her most celebrated early watercolors, including her iconic Evening Star series. The vast, star-studded Texas sky was a clear inspiration for O’Keeffe, as seen in works such as Starlight Night (1917, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico)—which has clear stylistic similarities with the central part of the present work. Indeed, the Texas sky at night was a particular point of interest for the artist, who noted the area was “a great place to see the night time because there is nothing else.” (as quoted in A.V. Lintel, “Georgia O’Keeffe: At Home in the Wonderful Nothing,” Georgia OKeeffe: Watercolors, 1916-1918, exhibition catalogue, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2016, p. 28) In a letter to Stieglitz, O’Keeffe recounted, “As I walked home alone in it…in the midnight starlight—Such wonderful big starlight…and the miles and miles of the thin strip of dark that is land—It was wonderfully big—and dark and starlight and night moving—It is—tremendously free—you would love it—I wish you had been by me.” In another writing from this period, she declared, “I am not making art, I am digging stars.” (as quoted in Georgia OKeeffe: Watercolors, 1916-1918, p. 28)

In order to focus intensely on her personal style of abstraction, for a period from 1915 through 1916, O’Keeffe eliminated the variable of color and worked only in black and white. O’Keeffe recalled, “It was in the fall of 1915 that I first had the idea that what I had been taught was of little value to me except for the use of my materials as a language…and I decided to start anew—to strip away what I had been taught—to accept as true my own thinking...I began with charcoal and paper and decided not to use any color until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white. I believe it was June before I needed blue.” (as quoted in B.B. Lynes, “Inventions of Different Orders,” OKeeffe on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 42) The first colored medium she worked in when she reached that breaking point was Prussian blue watercolor, featured in the present work, which could be worked on a wide value scale like charcoal—from the very light watered down washes to the deep shadows of pooled pigment on paper.

Composed of brilliant and varying hues of blues, blacks, greens and yellows, Abstraction is an early affirmation of O'Keeffe's passion for color. “O'Keeffe’s early attraction to color developed through her love of the outdoors, a Midwestern upbringing, and her early art education in girls’ schools. Colors meant more to her than words. Critic Henry McBride would point out that O'Keeffe's color ‘outblazed’ that of the other painters in the Stieglitz circle.” (J.G. Castro, The Art and Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1985, p. 162) In a letter to Anita Pollitzer, dated 11 September 1916, O'Keeffe proclaims with great exuberance her love of the color and visual energy that surrounded her in Texas, "Tonight I walked into the sunset—to mail some letters—the whole sky—and there is so much of it out here—was just blazing—and grey blue clouds were rioting all through the hotness of it—and the ugly little buildings and windmills looked great against it. But some way or other I didn't seem to like the redness much so after I mailed the letters home—and kept on walking—The Eastern sky was all grey blue—bunches of clouds—different kinds of clouds—sticking around everywhere and the whole thing—lit up—first in one place—then in another with flashes of lightning—sometimes just sheet lightning—and sometimes sheet lightning with a sharp bright zigzag flashing across it—.” (as quoted in J. Cowart, J. Hamilton, Georgia O'Keeffe: Art and Letters, Washington, DC, 1987, pp. 156-57) Indeed, O’Keeffe poured such passion not only into Abstraction, but also into her iconic Evening Star series painted the same year.

By 1915, according to Sarah Whitaker Peters, O'Keeffe “wanted her paintings to work like visual poems, to resist the intellect almost entirely. Hence her forms were simplified to their essence and her colors were orchestrated for psychic resonance...” (Becoming O'Keeffe: The Early Years, New York, 1991, p. 13) O’Keeffe continued to explore such “visual poems” in abstract oils on canvas, and the present work Abstraction can arguably be seen as an important precursor to such works as From the Plains (1919, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico) and Blue and Green Music (1919-21, Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois).

As Jack Cowart comments, “O'Keeffe used color as emotion...In her abstractions, O'Keeffe wrapped color around the ethereal. Whether her images are abstract or figurative, O'Keeffe gives the viewer a profound lesson in emotional and intellectual coloring. No reproduction will ever do justice to the intensity, the solidity, or the high pitch of these colors, for the notion of local or topical color in her work is only relative, just the beginning point...” (Georgia O'Keeffe: Art and Letters, p. 4) Composed of mysteriously amorphous forms of varying hues, Abstraction indeed evokes the ethereal, while grounded in the raw and palpable emotion that found continuous expression in O’Keeffe’s best work throughout her career.

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