To her sister, Anita O’Keeffe Young
Sarah Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz: Photographs & Writings (Washington, D. C.: National Gallery of Art, 1983), pl. 43
John Szarkowski, Alfred Stieglitz at Lake George (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1995), p. 49
Therese Mulligan, ed., The Photography of Alfred Stieglitz: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Enduring Legacy (Rochester: George Eastman House, 2000), cat. 111
Stieglitz had first encountered O’Keeffe through her artwork in 1916, when Anita Pollitzer, a former classmate of O’Keeffe’s and a frequent visitor to Stieglitz’s 291 gallery, showed him a series of her drawings that deeply impressed him. Throughout the early days of their affair and marriage, Stieglitz was O’Keeffe’s greatest champion in the New York art world. This image captures O’Keeffe in action, creating the work that captivated Stieglitz and would ultimately make her one of the most significant artists of the 20th century.
This photograph has a distinguished provenance. It was originally in the collection of O’Keeffe; numbering in her hand appears on the reverse of the mount. It was given by O’Keeffe to her sister, Anita O’Keeffe Young, the well-known socialite and wife of railroad magnate Robert R. Young. Anita was an enthusiastic collector of her sister’s art, which she hung in her homes in Newport, Palm Beach, and New York. By means of purchase and gift, Anita Young acquired many of O’Keeffe’s most celebrated paintings and drawings, including Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 (now in the collection of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art). The two sisters maintained a close relationship throughout their lives, with Young giving financial support when needed. O’Keeffe, for her part, kept her sister supplied with loans of paintings and outright gifts, in addition to selling works to her directly, rather than through her dealer.
The years 1916 through 1918 were especially productive ones for O’Keeffe and saw her focus intensively on the watercolor medium. While she had previously concentrated on drawing in charcoal, 1916 marked a deepening exploration of the use of color in her work. As O’Keeffe authority Judith C. Walsh notes, the immediacy of the watercolor medium, and ‘the emotional power and beauty of clear vibrant color,’ inspired O’Keeffe to experiment and evolve (O’Keeffe on Paper, National Gallery of Art, 2000, p. 58). O’Keeffe pushed herself relentlessly to achieve perfection, and commented wryly to her sister Anita, ‘I’ve just come to the comforting conclusion that I’ll have to paint acres and acres of watercolor landscapes before I will look for a passibly [sic] fair one’ (ibid., p. 66).
O’Keeffe’s watercolor explorations from this period provided a decisive step forward in the development of her work. Stieglitz, in his role as a pioneering gallerist, was especially receptive to the medium. In 1908, he had famously shown watercolors by Rodin at 291, an exhibition which was seen by O’Keeffe. In addition to work in the medium by Cézanne and Picasso, watercolors by Stieglitz’s immediate stable of American artists, including Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Arthur Dove, and others, were frequently shown in his galleries. Ralph E. Fine and Elizabeth Glassman suggest in their essay in O’Keeffe on Paper that ‘Stieglitz’s orientation to other artistic media was rooted in his sensitivity to the distinctive possibilities of drawings and other works on paper’ (p. 18). As a photographer attuned to the artistic process, Stieglitz favored these works over oils and sculpture because they embodied the immediacy of the act of creation. Stieglitz would go on to feature O’Keeffe’s watercolors in his exhibitions, and included 10 in her first one-woman show in 1917.
Sarah Greenough, in Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set, locates prints of this image in the following five institutional collections: the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.; George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, New York; and The Baltimore Museum of Art. Another print of this image was sold at auction in 2012.
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