During the 1920s, Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz spent much of their time in New York City. As Charles Eldredge notes, "Alfred Stieglitz, like many urbanites then and now, also had a rural base, at Lake George in upstate New York, and every year he joined other members of the large family at his mother's home there. In August 1918, he was accompanied by O'Keeffe, who was warmly received by the mater familias and the sundry siblings, in-laws, and offspring of the Stieglitz tribe." (Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1991, p. 39) Soon O'Keeffe began to take frequent sojourns to the region, where she began a diverse series of paintings related to the Lake and her impressions of the surrounding natural landscape.
On her visits to Lake George, O'Keeffe often took long walks. In a letter to her friend Sherwood Anderson, the author, she once proclaimed enthusiastically about "a wonderful morning...most summer people gone home. I wish you could see the place here--there is something so perfect about the mountains and the lake and the trees...it is really lovely." (as quoted in Georgia O'Keeffe, p. 40) With Birch and Pine Trees--Pink, O'Keeffe presents a sweeping composition of tree trunks and branches through which hints of sunlight can be seen. The image is unified by a simplified palette of pink, orange and green, and the artist's dramatic use of the values of light and dark. In this instance, the title offers a helpful connection to the pictorial origin of the arcs of color, light and shade, which combine in this painting to create one of the most abstracted paintings of her early career. The painting differs significantly from other works she painted at this time, such as Chestnut Tree--Red, in which the tree form is starkly silhouetted against the sky, and its subject is more readily apparent. Other related works likewise incorporate trees and sky and still others present expansive views of trees surrounding the lake itself.
In discussing the impact of Stieglitz's photography on O'Keeffe's art, Charles Eldredge adds that "the suggestion of nature's vitality, was found as well in O'Keeffe's paintings of silvery birch limbs, often embraced by boughs of dark pine. As with the chestnut, O'Keeffe used some of these natural motifs to express her thoughts and feelings, in at least one instance an arboreal subject became a surrogate portrait of a close friend. She told the writer Jean Toomer, who had visited Lake George in 1925, that there is a painting 'I made from something of you the first time you were here,' probably an illusion to her Birch and Pine Trees - Pink, one of a group of the paired trees she painted that year. If the embrace of pale birch and dark pine alluded to O'Keeffe's friendship with the black author, other designs of branches and foliage seem more straightforward celebrations of the colorful effects of Lake George in October. In the Birches in Autumn series, also dating from 1925, the tree is centered in the canvas, immersed in autumnal yellows and oranges that fill the composition, obliterating any recession into space. In some of these works, strokes of pigment describe, somewhat impressionistically, individual leaves in profile; in others, a more general feathery blur of gold suggests the mass of foliage. In both cases, however, the smooth volumes or trunks and colorful blaze of foliage adhere insistently to the flat surface of the canvas. O'Keeffe, like many modernist painters, exploited that flatness of the canvas and did not seek to impose on it an illusion of depth." (Georgia O'Keeffe, p. 43)
In the 1920s, with these works of Lake George, her flower paintings and her views of Manhattan, O'Keeffe began to achieve a measure of acclaim. In an homage to the artist printed in the Chicago Evening Post in 1926, the journalist Blanche Matthias wrote a celebratory biographical account of O'Keeffe's success. For Matthias, O'Keeffe embodied what we would describe today as a feminist ideal: "She is like the flickering flame of a candle, steady, serene, softly brilliant," she wrote, "this woman who lives fearlessly, reasons logically, who is modest, unassertive, and spiritually beautiful, and who, because she dares paint as she feels, has become not only one of the most magical artists of our time, but one of the most stimulatingly powerful." (as quoted in R. Robinson, Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life, p. 294)