The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco present “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George,” organized by the Hyde Collection in association with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.
The exhibition, which begins its exclusive West Coast presentation at the de Young on Saturday, Feb. 15, is the first major exhibition to examine the body of work that Georgia O’Keeffe (1887‒1986) created based on her experiences at Lake George.
From 1918 until 1934, O’Keeffe lived for part of each year at the family estate of Alfred Stieglitz on Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Park. The 36-acre property, situated near Lake George Village along the western shoreline, served as a rural retreat for the artist, providing the subject matter for much of her art and inspiring the spirit of place that she continually evoked in her works from this era, an essential aspect to her evolving modern approach to depicting the natural world.
During this highly productive period she created more than 200 paintings on canvas and paper in addition to sketches and pastels, making her Lake George years among the most prolific and transformative of her seven-decade career.
This period coincided with O’Keeffe’s first critical and popular acclaim as a professional artist, helped define her personal style and affirmed her passion for natural subject matter prior to her well-known move to the Southwest.
“It is especially gratifying to host this pioneering and scholarly exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Lake George‒period works, as the artist’s ‘Petunias’, featured in the exhibition, is a highlight of our renowned collection of modernist works by artists associated with the Stieglitz circle,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
This landmark survey will explore O’Keeffe’s full range of work inspired by Lake George through a selection of 53 works from private collections and major museums across the country, including the Seattle Art Museum, Denver Art Museum, High Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art (New York), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, Walker Art Center, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
The selection includes magnified botanical compositions of the flowers and vegetables that O’Keeffe grew in her garden at Lake George, a group of still lifes of the apples that she picked on the Steiglitz property and paintings showing the variety of trees and leaves that grew in abundance there, with which she became fascinated.
Architectural subjects also emerge as a theme within the exhibition, as do panoramic landscape paintings and bold, color-filled abstractions that often relate visually to the subjects that O’Keeffe was exploring during this period.
Regardless of theme, O’Keeffe’s varied works investigate spatial ambiguity and dichotomies of interior and exterior, nature and the built environment, and absence and presence. They often are interpreted as deeply personal and autobiographical expressions.
Like many artists of her generation and earlier ones as well, O’Keeffe painted throughout the summer and fall and transported canvases back to her New York studio for completion and exhibition in the spring.
At Lake George, O’Keeffe reveled in the discovery of new subject matter and found respite in the verdant setting, enjoying long walks through the wooded hillsides and hikes up Prospect Mountain to take in the spectacular view of the lake’s mountain-rimmed waters.
“In addition to her pioneering abstractions, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Lake George‒period paintings resurrected and revitalized subjects such as landscape, still life and architecture that had been considered retardataire — if not reactionary — by avant-garde critics, curators and collectors,” said Timothy Anglin Burgard, the Ednah Root curator in charge of American Art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “O’Keeffe’s platonic ideal of nature, perfected at Lake George, helped to promote a respect and reverence for the natural world that resonates with contemporary viewers — especially in California, home to Yosemite Valley, the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe.”
In 1923 O’Keeffe enthusiastically wrote to her friend Sherwood Anderson in a letter, “I wish you could see the place here — there is something so perfect about the mountains and the lake and the trees — Sometimes I want to tear it all to pieces — it seems so perfect.”
What remains consistent throughout O’Keeffe’s career is her allegiance to organic nature, the driving force that infuses living things, the essence of which is celebrated in “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George.”
The exhibition is curated by Erin B. Coe, chief curator of the Hyde Collection, and Barbara Buhler Lynes, former curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The exhibition is organized by the Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York, in association with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico. The exhibition is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. The foundation sponsor is the Henry Luce Foundation. The presentation at the de Young is made possible by the Ednah Root Foundation, the San Francisco Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums, the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund and Lucinda Watson. Media sponsors are the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate.com and KOIT 96.5FM.
A fully illustrated, 200-page book from the international art publisher Thames & Hudson, also entitled “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George,” accompanies the exhibition. The lead essay is written by organizing curator Erin B. Coe, with additional essays by Bruce Robertson, professor, department of the history of art and architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Gwendolyn Owens, consultant curator of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. It can be purchased at the FAMSF Museum Stores or online at shop.famsf.org. for $40; $36 for FAMSF members.
The de Young is located in Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, in San Francisco. It is open 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, select holidays including Feb. 17 and closed most Mondays.
Tickets start at $25 for adults and include general admission; discounts are available for seniors, students and youths; premium tickets are available. FAMSF Members and children 5 and under are admitted free. Tickets are available at deyoungmuseum.org.