Executed in 1923.
Around 1920, Georgia O'Keeffe re-discovered her interest in still life compositions after an intensive period of experimentation with abstract design. Painting still lifes was a return to her early training. Georgia O'Keeffe studied still life painting under her teacher at the Art Students League, William Merritt Chase, from 1907 to 1908. Chase taught his student the basis of painting still lifes while encouraging her to observe objects closely and to experiment with new ways of representing them.
During the early twenties, O'Keeffe began painting symbolic-abstract portraits. Often these paintings were still life self-portraits. Executed in 1923, the composition and form of Alligator Pears is clearly similar to Alfred Stieglitz's 1919 photograph of her breasts. There are eight known alligator pear canvases from 1923, a large number on a single theme for O'Keeffe. To O'Keeffe, the alligator pear was also a symbol of the full womb and the enlarged subject on the small canvas has exaggerated the ripeness of these pears. Such a large number of these paintings are possibly related to the loss of her long hope to having a child with Stieglitz. Forty years later she noted, "The first alligator pear I became acquainted with I didn't eat. I kept it so long that it turned a sort of light brown and was so hard that I could shake it and hear the seed rattle. I kept it for years-a dry thing, a wonderful shape. Later I had two green ones-not so perfect. I painted them several times. It was a time when the men didn't think much of what I was doing. I was an outsider. My color and form were not acceptable." (S.W. Peters, Becoming O'Keeffe, New York, 1991, p. 256)
Not only is Alligator Pears a self-portrait of O'Keeffe and a symbol of a womb, the work is also a striking still life of two dark green pears on a white tablecloth. Although static, the fruit seems alive as the white tablecloth billows beneath them. Discussing a similar alligator pear painting by O'Keeffe, Charles C. Eldridge writes, "Sometimes the simple compositions of fruit in near monochromes of a photographic palette which exploits the pure, clean form of the fruit isolated on a smooth, white cloth. In its stark simplicity, the single avocado departs from the formula of what O'Keeffe jokingly called her 'alligator-pears-in-a-large-dark-basket period'." (Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1991, p. 62)
With painting still lifes, O'Keeffe could study the objects with a focus that made her able to paint these forms as an abstraction. O'Keeffe has said that she rarely painted anything she did not know well. Marjorie P. Balge-Crozier writes, "...O'Keeffe's still lifes from the early 1920s are a series of explorations in looking at things close at hand-the fruit and vegetables grown at Lake George, the leaves picked up and examined in all their various shapes, the clam shells gathered in Maine, the flowers bought in New York. Yet if we compare them to the real things or other artists' representations of such things, it rapidly becomes evident that O'Keeffe has made these objects uniquely hers. She has recognized, as most modern artists, that the work of art is an object itself, a thing apart from that which is represented." (in E.H. Turner, Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. 53)
Georgia O'Keeffe's Alligator Pears is a remarkable still life of the contrasting dark green pears against a white tablecloth that is also quite personal to the artist. What looks to be a beautiful still life is also an abstract view of O'Keeffe and of motherhood.