DescriptionGEORGIA O'KEEFFE (American, 1887-1986)
Alligator Pears, circa 1923
Oil on canvas
12 x 10 inches (30.5 x 25.4 cm)
Signed on stretcher verso: O'Keeffe
PROPERTY FROM THE KING COLLECTION, TEXAS
Alfred Stieglitz, New York;
Paul Rosenfeld, New York, 1920s;
By bequest to Edna Bryner Schwab, literary executrix of the above, New York, 1946;
The Downtown Gallery, New York;
Harold Goldsmith, New York, 1946;
The Downtown Gallery, New York, 1959;
Leo Praeger, New York, 1961;
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York;
Acquired by the present owner from the above, December 1987.
Anderson Galleries, Beverly Hills, California, solo exhibition, 1924;
John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, California, "A Selection of Paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe," July 23-September 6, 1986, no. 17;
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts,"Georgia O'Keeffe: Natural Issues, 1918-1924," April 11-July 12, 1992, no. 12;
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico, displayed on extended loan beginning June 1997;
Fondazione Roma Museo, Rome, Italy, and elsewhere, "Georgia O'Keeffe," October 4, 2011-January 22, 2012;
El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, "Discovering the American Modern 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection," September 8, 2013-January 5, 2014, no. 81.
B.B. Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, p. 226, no. 419 (verso, p. 179, no. 332), illustrated;
"Discovering the American Modern 1907-1936: The King Collection," American Art Review, December 2013, pp. 80-87, 127, illustrated;
P.S. Cable, Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection, exhibition catalogue, El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, 2013, pp. 97-98, no. 81, illustrated.
Alligator Pears is part of a series of paintings and pastels on this subject that Georgia O'Keeffe produced in the 1920s, either singly or in pairs. O'Keeffe rediscovered her interest in still-life compositions following an intensive period of experimentation with abstract design. In still-life painting, O'Keeffe could study the objects with a focus that allowed her to paint these forms intimately and conceptually. Marjorie P. Balge-Crozier writes, "...O'Keeffe's still lifes from the early 1920s are a series of explorations in looking at things close at hand--the fruit and vegetables grown at Lake George, the leaves picked up and examined in all their various shapes, the clam shells gathered in Maine, the flowers bought in New York. Yet if we compare them to the real things or other artists' representations of such things, it rapidly becomes evident that O'Keeffe has made these objects uniquely hers. She has recognized, as most modern artists, that the work of art is an object itself, a thing apart from that which is represented" (in E.H. Turner, Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. 53).
There are eight known alligator pear canvases from 1923, a large number on a single theme for O'Keeffe. The alligator pear was arguably a poignant and personal motif. The enlarged subject on the small canvas exaggerates the ripeness of these pears, evoking a woman's full womb. Indeed, these paintings are possibly related to the loss of her long hope of having a child with Alfred Stieglitz. Forty years later she noted, "The first alligator pear I became acquainted with I didn't eat. I kept it so long that it turned a sort of light brown and was so hard that I could shake it and hear the seed rattle. I kept it for years--a dry thing, a wonderful shape. Later I had two green ones--not so perfect. I painted them several times. It was a time when the men didn't think much of what I was doing. They were all discussing Cézanne with long involved remarks...I was an outsider. My color and form were not acceptable. It had nothing to do with Cézanne or anyone else" (G. O'Keeffe, Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1976, n.p.).
The composition and form of Alligator Pears is also clearly evocative of one of Stieglitz's intimate and sensual photograph of O'Keeffe, Portrait--Hands and Breasts from 1919. Furthermore, the painting's close up, abstracted view of natural forms recalls the importance of photography in the development of O'Keeffe's art. Unlike most of her work, Alligator Pears possesses an overall dark tonality, but the subtle color differences between the green pears and surrounding bluish-green drapery allow us to appreciate the artist's characteristically thin yet subtle facture.
As a personal portrayal of a favorite subject, Alligator Pears begs to be examined closely and thoroughly. Judith C. Walsh notes, "Her pictures, which must be viewed intimately, offer a startling incongruity: their pristine and subtle surface contrasts with the bold and graphic design. The very act of looking at O'Keeffe's art can cause us to reconsider the exquisite beauty in the variations of color, tone, and texture found on the surface of a work, or in the objects and forms around us" (O'Keeffe on Paper, Washington, D.C., 2000, p.77).
Alligator Pears originally belonged to the art critic Paul Rosenfeld, who kept it in his possession until his death. A frequent viewer of O'Keeffe's exhibitions, Rosenfeld praised both the originality of her work and its inherent feminism: "it is sort of a new language her paint speaks. We do not know precisely what it is we are experiencing...Here speaks what women have dimly felt and uncertainly expressed" (as quoted in A.C. Chave,"O'Keeffe and the Masculine Gaze," Art in America, January 1990, pp. 118 and 177n19).
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