Georgia O'Keeffe reserved a special place in her heart for New Mexico. She chose the Southwestern paradise as a permanent home back in the late 1940s. “Living out here has just meant happiness," O'Keeffe gushed about the New Mexico village of Abiquiu. "Sometimes I think I’m half mad with love for this place.”
But her admiration of ethereal nature and stark landscapes brought O'Keeffe to other corners of the country as well. A new exhibit at Santa Fe's Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is paying tribute to the painter's contentious love affair with the Adirondacks -- more specifically, with the regions' gorgeous Lake George.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Trees in Autumn, 1920/1921. Oil on canvas, 25 1/4 x 20 1/4. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation (1997.06.012) © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
From 1918 to 1934, O'Keeffe and her husband, famed American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, spent parts of the years on Stieglitz's family estate on Lake George, a 36-acre property that served as a rural refuge for the artistic duo. During this decade and a half, O'Keeffe is reported to have created over 200 paintings, 55 of which are on view at "Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George."
“I wish you could see the place here -- there is something so perfect about the mountains and the lake and the trees," O'Keeffe explained in a letter to her friend Sherwood Anderson in 1923. "Sometimes I want to tear it all to pieces -- it seems so perfect -- but it is really lovely."
Georgia O’Keeffe, Alligator Pears, 1923. Oil on board, 9 7/8 x 13 3⁄4. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation (2006.05.097) © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
From botanical portraits to abstract landscapes, the works give a glimpse into the summers and falls O'Keeffe spent in northern New York. Her familiar petunia paintings sit next to her sprawling mountain scenes, pieces that at first glance seem to represent purely enthusiastic feelings toward Lake George Village. But a deeper delve into the collection presents tangled tree-scapes and swirling, kaleidoscopic imagery that evokes the tenser moments of the couples' stay in the Adirondacks. They were, of course, living with Stieglitz's extended family, a time described by various writers as "a period of destruction."
“There is this sense that she felt constantly harassed by the overbearing Stieglitz family," explains Dr. Cody Hartley, director of curatorial affairs at the O’Keeffe Museum, in a press statement, "and found the landscape cloying, as if it was too overgrown to offer creative inspiration.”
Georgia O’Keeffe, Series I, No. 10, 1919. Oil on canvas, 20 1/8 x 16 1/8. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation (2006.05.086) © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
"Modern Nature" works to correct the over-generalized view that O'Keeffe held Lake George in ill regard. Instead, it aims to show the artist's complex relationship to New York's natural world, a sentiment filled with delight, suspicion and sublime awe -- emotions O'Keeffe has proved expert at conveying. Scroll through a preview of the exhibit, which will be on view until January 26, 2014, and let us know your thoughts on O'Keeffe's work in the comments.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Petunia No. 2, 1924. Oil on canvas, 36 x 30. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation and Gerald and Kathleen Peters (1996.03.002) © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Georgia O’Keeffe, Storm Cloud, Lake George, 1923. Oil on canvas, 18 x 30 1/8. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation (2007.01.018) © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Georgia O’Keeffe, Autumn Trees-The Maple, 1924 Georgia O’Keeffe. Oil on canvas, 36 x 30. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation and Gerald and Kathleen Peters (1996.03.001) © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Georgia O’Keeffe, Pond in the Woods, 1922. Pastel on paper, 24 x 18. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation (2007.01.017) © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Georgia O’Keeffe, Corn, No. 2, 1924. Oil on canvas, 27 1/4 x 10. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation and The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation (1997.04.006)
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that O'Keeffe and her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, made Santa Fe their permanent home in the late 1940s, when, in fact, O'Keeffe moved there by herself following his death.