Lot 10
  • 10

Georgia O'Keeffe 1887 - 1986

500,000 - 750,000 USD
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  • Georgia O'Keeffe
  • Untitled (Skunk Cabbage)
  • oil on board
  • 12 by 16 inches
  • (30.5 by 40.6 cm)
  • Painted circa 1927.


An American Place, New York
Private Collection, New York, 1932
Plaza Art Galleries, New York
Georgia O'Keeffe, 1972 (acquired from the above)
Estate of the artist, 1986
June O'Keeffe Sebring (the artist's niece), 1987
The Burnett Foundation, Fort Worth, Texas (acquired from the above)
Gift to the present owner from the above, 2002


Williamstown, Massachusetts, Williams College Museum of Art, Georgia O'Keeffe: Natural Issues 1918-1924, April-July 1992, no. 8, p. 52, illustrated; fig. 2, p. 10, illustrated


Barbara Buhler Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1999, vol. I, no. 613, p. 358, illustrated in color
Barbara Buhler Lynes and Russell Bowman, O'Keeffe's O'Keeffes: The Artist's Collection, New York, 2001, p. 173
Barbara Buhler Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Collections, New York, 2007, illustrated in color pl. 149, p. 169

Catalogue Note

Georgia O’Keeffe depicted the skunk cabbage several times over the course of her career. Her reliance on serial imagery—found throughout her body of work—was partly influenced by the ideas of one of her early instructors, Arthur Wesley Dow, who used this method to emphasize the importance of unique ways of seeing. In the present work, O’Keeffe depicts the plant from above. She focuses intently on the center of the plant and isolates it entirely from its larger environmental context. By removing the visual cues that would typically allow for instant recognition of the subject, she compels the viewer to consider the skunk cabbage for its distinctive shapes and colors, details that might have otherwise been overlooked. By presenting the skunk cabbage as a patterned design of repeating curves and undulations, O’Keeffe explores the relationship between natural imagery and abstract design.

O’Keeffe painted the present work circa 1927, at which time her nature-based abstractions had already made their debut on the New York art scene. While she was praised for the uniqueness of her style from the earliest years of her career, during the 1920s O'Keeffe imagery and style became increasingly linked with that of another American modernist, Arthur Dove. In their interpretation of O’Keeffe’s style and imagery as inherently female, prominent art critics of the day such as Paul Rosenfeld as well as O'Keeffe's future husband, Alfred Stieglitz, positioned Dove as her male aesthetic counterpart. “Dove is very directly the man in painting,” Rosenfeld stated in 1924, “precisely as Georgia O’Keeffe is the female; neither type has been known in quite the degree of purity before” (Arthur G. Dove," Port of New York: Essays on Fourteen American Moderns, New York, 1924, p. 170).

Despite the one-dimensionality of this discourse, these two artists—both credited as among the very first American painters to work with pure abstraction—did work in close dialogue with one another during this period: each experimented with the particular imagery, style of execution and preferred media of the other. This creative kinship is demonstrated in the boldly abstracted Untitled (Skunk Cabbage). O’Keeffe’s composition recalls the imagery Dove began to investigate more than a decade earlier in works such as Plant Forms (fig. 1), which O’Keeffe saw in the Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters in 1916. O’Keeffe's painting echoes Dove’s pastel in its treatment of both form and texture. She achieves a sense of active motion through the repetition of geometric and organic shapes and the expressive brushwork she utilizes to render them. Consequently, the work is evocative of the artists’ shared belief in the rhythms and dynamism inherent to the natural world. As displayed in Untitled (Skunk Cabbage), Dove’s early explorations of the abstract qualities of organic entities had a profound impact on O’Keeffe, one that endured as she honed her own aesthetic. Nearly 50 years after she painted Untitled (Skunk Cabbage), in 1972 O'Keeffe purchased the work for her personal collection, where it remained until her death in 1986.