Lot 25
  • 25

Georgia O'Keeffe 1887 - 1986

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
3,218,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Georgia O'Keeffe
  • A White Camellia
  • inscribed by Alfred Steiglitz White Camelia (1939) (pastel) by Georgia O'Keeffe on the backing board
  • pastel on board
  • 21 1/2 by 27 1/2 inches
  • (54.6 by 69.9 cm)
  • Executed in 1938.


An American Place, New York
Elizabeth Arden, New York, 1939
Patricia Graham Young, New York, by 1986 (her niece)
Estate of Patricia Graham Young, 1990 (sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 24, 1990, lot 230, illustrated in color)
Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico (acquired from the above sale)
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1992


New York, An American Place, Georgia O'Keeffe:  Exhibition of Oils and Pastels, January-March 1939, no. 19
Santa Fe, New Mexico; New York, New York; Dallas, Texas, Gerald Peters Gallery, Georgia O'Keeffe, November 1990-January 1991, no. 4, illustrated in color
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Six American Modernists - Marsden Hartley, Gaston Lachaise, Elie Nadelman, Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, John Storrs, November 1991-January 1992, no. 66, p. 35, illustrated in color p. 28
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, O'Keeffe on Paper, April-July 2000, no. 49, p. 141, illustrated in color p. 130


Jan Garden Castro, The Art & Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1985, p. 40, illustrated in color 
Nicholas Callaway, ed., Georgia O'Keeffe: One Hundred Flowers, New York, 1987, pl. 93, illustrated in color
Barbara Buhler Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, vol. I, no. 948, p. 592, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Displaying the same subtle tonality and impeccable attention to detail that characterize her works in oil, Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1938 pastel, A White Camellia, not only illustrates the artist’s deep admiration for the natural world, but also reveals her intent to distill abstract patterns from these organic sources. Reflecting the formal vocabulary O’Keeffe developed as an avant-garde American modernist in the early decades of the 20th century, the present work masterfully exemplifies the deeply personal synthesis of realism and abstraction that pervades the entirety of her oeuvre.

The natural world provided O’Keeffe with ample subject matter throughout her career. During the 1920s, she began painting the images for which she is perhaps best known: large-scale compositions of magnified leaves and flowers. O’Keeffe particularly revered flowers for what she felt was the challenge they inherently posed to human observation. It was easy, she believed, to overlook the beauty found in the details of these small and delicate entities. Later recalling her initial attraction to this motif she said, “So I said to myself—I’ll paint what I see—what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it—I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.” (as quoted in Georgia O’Keeffe: Exhibition of Oils and Pastels, New York, An American Place, 1939). Indeed, it was these works that first captured the attention of the New York art world in the 1920s, and intensified the endless psychosexual speculation that surrounded her work thereafter.

Undeterred by the popular misinterpretation of her intent, O’Keeffe continued to execute floral compositions with varying sizes, formats, and media for decades. Following early experimentation with charcoal and watercolor, she discovered with pastel she could attain a subtle tonality of the former without forsaking the intensely vibrant palette the latter provided. She would utilize the medium steadily throughout her career. A White Camellia illustrates the mastery O’Keeffe had achieved with pastel by the 1930s, and epitomizes the unique compositional organization that has become her signature.

As she renders the camellia blossom monumental and centralized, O’Keeffe eschews traditional scale and pictorial organization, compressing the space to force her chosen subject forward in the picture plane. Thus, she confronts the viewer immediately with the blossom’s commanding color and form, and transforms this traditional still-life subject into an abstract pattern of organic shapes. O’Keeffe has blended the medium flawlessly, creating an immaculately smooth surface upon which the minutest gradations of her predominantly white palette are evident. As the blossom floats in the intentionally amorphous pictorial space, its velvety petals ripple across the picture plane, emanating outwards as if without definitive boundaries. The minimal modeling of forms indicate a degree of three-dimensionality, but not enough to destroy the sense of flattened patterning O’Keeffe wanted to depict. Pulsating with visual energy, the work suggests O’Keeffe’s belief in the rhythms and dynamism of nature itself.

The distinctive composition O’Keeffe employs in works like A White Camellia correlates closely to the work of many modern photographers in the early decades of the 20th century. Like Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, O’Keeffe focuses closely on her chosen subject, isolating the blossom from its larger environment to examine its form and color at close hand. This striking aesthetic approach is equally indebted to her training under the artist Arthur Wesley Dow, who emphasized the inherent symbiosis of art and personal expression. Deeply influenced by Dow’s theories, O’Keeffe seeks not to duplicate nature, but rather to render her personal expression of the world around her. O’Keeffe wrote, “Long ago I came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing 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 what I was looking at—not copy it.” (quoted in Marjorie Balge-Crozier, “Still Life Redefined” in Georgia O’Keeffe: The Poetry of Things, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. 69). As she simplifies, crops, and enlarges the camellia, O’Keeffe leaves the realm of pure objectivity to present her perception of its essence, ultimately compelling the viewer to experience the natural world in a new and more profound way.