Kindred Spirits: Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe

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Alfred Stieglitz’s extensive portraiture of Georgia O’Keeffe began soon after the two first met in 1915. Over the next two decades, in dozens of sittings, Stieglitz’s famous ‘composite portrait’ of O’Keeffe recorded not only her face, her hands, and her torso, but also her moods and multifaceted personality. When O’Keeffe was first photographed by Stieglitz, she was only twenty-nine years old, and an obscure artist teaching in West Texas. By 1937, and hundreds of Stieglitz photographs later, she was a woman approaching fifty, who was fully comfortable with her identity and her profound abilities. 

Photographs
7 October | New York

Image: Stieglitz and O'Keeffe. Courtesy Bettmann / Contributor

Kindred Spirits: Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe

  • Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1918. Estimate $300,000–500,000. To be offered in the Photographs auction on 7 October, New York.
    Stieglitz’s earliest photographs of O’Keeffe from 1917 and 1918 demonstrate his fascination with her work, her body and her soul. The penetrating portrait offered here is one of several in which O’Keeffe poses in front of her drawing No. 15 Special, a charcoal inspired by her visits to Palo Duro Canyon, Texas. Now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, No. 15 Special is currently on loan to the O’Keeffe retrospective at London’s Tate Modern.


  • Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe -- Hands and Thimble, 1919. Sold for $ 770,500.
    Stieglitz made photographs of O’Keeffe’s hands throughout their time together, from two studies made shortly after their meeting in 1916 to O’Keeffe’s hand delineating the curve of a spare tire in 1933. Even as his relationship with O’Keeffe grew more intimate, and the portrait project progressed to studies of her semi-nude, and then nude, Stieglitz never lost his fascination with her hands. Even engaged with the domesticity of a needle, thread and thimble, O’Keeffe’s hands were both capable and sensual as photographed by Stieglitz.


  • Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, 1918. Sold for $ 212,500.
    Only a few of Stieglitz’s many portraits of O’Keeffe show the artist at work. Taken at the Stieglitz family home in Lake George, New York, this study shows her seated outside and painting in watercolour. Stieglitz featured O’Keeffe’s watercolours in his exhibitions, and included ten in her first one-woman show at his 291 gallery in 1917. 


  • Georgia O’Keeffe, Pink and Green (Pink Pastelle), 1922. Sold for $2,530,000.
    Georgia O’Keeffe executed Pink and Green in 1922, the year prior to the landmark exhibition of her works at the Anderson Galleries in New York, in which it was included. O’Keeffe consistently gleaned her primary inspiration from the forms of the natural world, yet in works like Pink and Green she appears to approach pure abstraction. By omitting explicitly representational imagery, O’Keeffe presents Pink and Green more as a meditation on the relationship between colour, line and form, and the ability of these formal qualities to communicate deeper emotions and subjective meanings. The imagery of Pink and Green, as well as O’Keeffe’s intent, also finds parallels with the photographs of clouds Stieglitz began in the early 1920s and would continue to explore into the following decade through a series he called Equivalents.


  • Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, 1932. Sold for $44,405,000.
    O’Keeffe’s dialogue with the Modernist photographs of Stieglitz and his colleague Paul Strand is plainly evident in Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, in which she crops the picture plane sharply and focuses intently on the blossom to present its form up close. Although she allows for a degree of three-dimensionality within the composition, the pictorial space is largely compressed, contributing to the impression of the blossom as a pattern of shapes and colors.   


  • Alfred Stieglitz, Shingling Shanty, Lake George, circa 1919. Sold for $16,250.
    Pictured here are O’Keeffe and Elizabeth and Donald Davidson, Stieglitz’s niece and her husband, who spent many summers together in Lake George, New York, where Stieglitz’s family had owned property since 1886. Here, Stieglitz has captured O’Keeffe shingling the decaying structure that would become her studio, known as the Shanty. O’Keeffe, who often found the constant presence of Stieglitz relatives and guests stifling, yearned for a place to be alone and the Shanty was to be her refuge. In this image, she is an active subject, physically and metaphorically constructing her own space.


  • Georgia O’Keeffe, Lake George Barn (Lake George Barns), 1929. Sold for $2,965,000.
    From 1919 until 1928, O'Keeffe divided her time between New York City and the Adirondacks, spending each summer at Alfred Stieglitz's farmhouse in Lake George, New York. The months the couple spent in the country provided a respite from the bustle of city life. Painted in 1929, Lake George Barn belongs to a group of works in which O'Keeffe considers the interaction between man-made structures and their natural surroundings and is one of more than a dozen depictions of barns and other structures on the Stieglitz property. In the present painting, the artist renders the old farm buildings as simplified geometric planes, allowing her to explore the visual relationships between vertical, diagonal and horizontal lines. 


  • Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1933. Sold for $329,600.
    In the summer of 1933, with proceeds from the sale of one of her paintings, O’Keeffe purchased a new Ford V-8 convertible coupe. Her automobile and the act of driving were both signs of her growing independence away from Stieglitz, and she initially kept her driving a secret from him. Whatever his conflicted reactions to O’Keeffe’s new-found mobility may have been, Stieglitz made some of his most powerful portraits of her beside the Ford V-8 coupe, as well as several beautiful studies of her hand against the car’s spare tire.  


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