A & E

Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at de Young extended until May 11

Georgia O’Keeffe, American (1887–1986), Lake George, 1922, oil on canvas, 16¼ x 22 in., SFMOMA, gift of Charlotte Mack © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The de Young museum has extended its  exhibition of  Georgia O’Keeffe’s landscapes and botanical studies, created at Lake George in upstate New York between 1918 and the early 1930s during her summer trips to Alfred Stieglitz’s family estate.

O’Keeffe was born was born in Wisconsin in 1887 and spent her early years on the family farm where she discovered the tranquil beauty of the natural world. But it was during her summers in Lake George that she began to develop what became her distinctive modernist take on nature.

This particular era of O’Keeffe’s career was bookmarked by important events. In April 1916, O’Keeffe’s drawings were first exhibited in New York at Stieglitz’s gallery, 291. In 1918, O’Keeffe and Stieglitz began living together in New York. It was during this time that Stieglitz began his photo portrait series of O’Keeffe, his newest and, through the years, most revisited subject.

O’Keeffe was fond of saying that if one merely painted nature as it appeared, the painting would always be less remarkable than the original, and there would be no reason to paint. Representational interpretations of her surroundings became less important than recording her impressions in paint. The resulting canvases, in rich, subtly blended colors, forged the path she would pursue for the rest of her career. Her impressions of Lake George, for example, show a line gently bisecting the canvas representing the lake’s horizon nestled between the mountains above and their symmetrical reflection below. The particulars of trees, hills and water are simplified to color, light, and shade.

By 1930, O’Keeffe was one of the most respected and famous painters in America. After traveling to Santa Fe, NM, in 1929, she found new inspiration in the American Southwest’s serene allure and eventually moved to the area.

Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George through May 11, de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, 415-750-3600, famsf.org.

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Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer in Southern California. She can be reached at mindthemage.com.