Lot 10
  • 10

GEORGIA O'KEEFFE | Waterfall, No. 2, Īao Valley

500,000 - 700,000 USD
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  • Georgia O'Keeffe
  • Waterfall, No. 2, Īao Valley
  • oil on canvas
  • 24 by 20 inches
  • (61 by 50.8 cm)
  • Painted in 1939.


[With]The Downtown Gallery, New York
Mrs. Iselin O'Donnell, New York, 1947 (acquired from the above)
Estate of the above (sold: Sotheby's, New York, December 13, 1972, lot 142)
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale


New York, An American Place, Georgia O'Keeffe: Exhibition of Oils and Pastels, February-March 1940, no. 17 (as Water Fall-No. II-Iao Valley)
Honolulu, Hawaii, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Georgia O'Keeffe: Paintings of Hawaii, March-May 1990, no. 18, p. 76, illustrated pp. 56, 76
Bronx, New York, New York Botanical Garden; Memphis, Tennessee, Brooks Museum of Art, Georgia O'Keeffe: Visions of Hawai'i, May 2018-February 2019, no. 16, p. 122, illustrated p. 123


"Advertising Art Lures Brush of Miss O'Keeffe," New York Herald Tribune, January 21, 1940, p. 10
"One-Man Shows," The New York Times, February 11, 1940, sec. 9, p. 7
Royal Cortissoz, "Three Ladies," New York Herald Tribune, February 11, 1940, sec. 9, p. 9
"Pineapple for Papaya," The Art Digest, vol. 14, no. 10, February 15, 1940, p. 23
Elizabeth McClausland, "Exhibitions in New York," Parnassus, vol. 12, no. 3, March 1940, p. 42
Ronn Ronck, "How Georgia O'Keeffe Conquered Pineapples," The Honolulu Advertiser, October 22, 1981, p. D3
Lisa Mintz Messinger, "Georgia O'Keeffe," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 42, no. 2, Fall 1984, p. 56, illustrated fig. 53, p. 54
Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1986, p. 244
Anita Pollitzer, A Woman on Paper: Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1988, p. 229
Lisa Mintz Messinger, Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1988, p. 86, illustrated fig. 62, p. 83
Barbara Buhler Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, no. 980, p. 619, illustrated


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes, Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work is in lovely condition. The canvas has never been removed from its original stretcher. The paint layer is stable and clean. It shows no retouches. There are three or four very faint cracks in the upper right, but these are not disturbing. There is a small scuff in the center of the extreme bottom edge to the right of the waterfall, possibly due to some kind of frame abrasion, which has slightly broken the paint layer. This scuff could be corrected, but the work should otherwise be hung as is.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Georgia O’Keeffe first traveled to the Hawaiian Islands in 1939, by which time she had firmly established herself as a prominent voice in modern art in America through her deeply personal images of magnified plants and flowers, as well as the sun-bleached animal bones of the deserts in the American Southwest. Attracted by O’Keeffe’s success and her distinctive interpretation of natural subjects, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, now known as the Dole Pineapple Company, sent the artist to Hawaii to create images of pineapples for a new promotional campaign. Instantly captivated by the region’s lush tropical landscape—so different from anything she had previously experienced—O’Keeffe spent nine weeks exploring its unique natural character, ultimately completing twenty paintings of the delicate yet powerful waterfalls, dramatic valleys and chasms, and the tropical flora that she encountered there. O’Keeffe recognized her powerful reaction to Hawaii and the influence it had on her work, writing to the photographer Ansel Adams, who made his own inaugural trip to the region in 1948 on assignment for the United States Department of the Interior, that “I have always intended to return [to Hawaii]…I often think of that trip at Yosemite [with you] as one of the best things I have done—but Hawaii was another” (Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawai’i, Kihei, Hawaii, 2011, p. 25).

The present work is one of four images O’Keeffe painted of the spectacular waterfalls in the Īao Valley on Maui. Though her subject here is entirely unique within her celebrated oeuvre of natural scenery, the lens through which she interprets it evokes her profound, almost spiritual reaction to the landscape, the quality that pervades the entirety of her body of work. Here, O’Keeffe emphasizes the drama of the setting by allowing the powerful cliffs to dominate the composition. She eliminates the foreground entirely and includes only a small area of blue sky and clouds, implying that the viewer is closely positioned to these mountainous forms. O’Keeffe captures the fecundity of the Hawaiian landscape by applying passages of shades of verdant green to render her subject. Her crisply defined contours and careful modeling of forms create sculptural depth on the picture plane, while simultaneously her disregard for traditional scale and spatial depth contributes to a modern sense of flattened patterning. As such, the traditional landscape is transformed into an abstract design of organic lines and shapes. “It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract,” she once explained of her intent. “Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify” (Barbara Haskell, Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction, New York, 2009, p. 166).

O’Keeffe exhibited her Hawaii paintings for the first time on February 1, 1940 at An American Place in New York. In the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, she articulated the esteem with which she regarded this new artistic output, writing “If my painting is what I have to give back to the world for what the world gives to me, I may say that these paintings are what I have to give at present for what three months in Hawaii gave to me...What I have been able to put into form seems infinitesimal compared with the variety of experience” (Georgia O'Keeffe: Exhibition of Oils, Pastels, New York, 1940, n.p.) This body of work was met with enthusiastic praise, with critics recognizing and remarking on the success this new outlet afforded her aesthetic. The New York World-Telegram enthused, "[O’Keeffe’s] pictures, always brilliant and exciting, [now] admit us to a world that is alien and strange" (Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawai’i, p. 20).