Courtesy photoGeorgia O’Keeffe’s “Autumn Leaves

Courtesy photoGeorgia O’Keeffe’s “Autumn Leaves

Big ideas in O’Keeffe’s small pictures

Anyone familiar with reproductions of Georgia O’Keeffe’s looming close-ups of flowers, fruits and trees may be surprised by the original artwork, an array of which is now on view in “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George” at the de Young Museum.

Many paintings are very small, some only 8 inches by 10 inches, and few are more than 30 inches in width or height.

Significantly, some of O’Keeffe’s portraits by her photographer husband are among the largest objects.

Still, when you stand close, regardless of size, the landscapes and objects come to life, with colors both vivid and muted inviting the viewer to step into the picture.

Organized by the Hyde Collection and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, “Modern Nature” showcases O’Keeffe’s work from her Lake George years in upstate New York. Between 1918 and 1934, O’Keeffe took seasonal visits upstate, staying on the family estate of photographer Alfred Stieglitz — her early champion, mentor and husband.

While O’Keeffe’s work at Lake George will be recognized by those who know her from her more famous late period in the Southwest, the 55 works seen here have an emerging style, subtly distinct from her artistry in Santa Fe, N.M.

The exhibit is unusual in its emphasis on biographical and background information accompanying the paintings, which range from O’Keeffe’s realistic early work (she was born in 1887 and died at age 98) to her later, increasingly abstract paintings. O’Keeffe’s quotes surround the works on the walls, including this stunner: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”

All the interpretation around the exhibit (including an audio guide) occasionally goes into scholarly, salacious excess. For example, an explanation of one painting suggests that a decaying, medium-size and small leaf may address Stieglitz’s affair with a woman 40 years his junior, with the middle leaf representing the middle-aged painter standing between an older man and a younger woman. If Freud wrote art criticism, he might have said that sometimes a leaf is just a leaf.

Of special significance is the plentiful background material on Stieglitz, whose influence on American art stretches beyond his mentorship of O’Keeffe. He pushed photography to be acknowledged as an accepted art form, and promoted the best in American and European avant-garde art from the early 20th century.

His Fifth Avenue gallery, known by its street number, 291, facilitated the entry of Rodin, Matisse, Cézanne and Picasso into the American consciousness and beyond the established familiarity of European expatriates.


“Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George”

Where: de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, closes May 11

Tickets: $25

Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.deyoung.famsf.orgArt & Museumsartsde Young MuseumGeorgia O’KeeffeModern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George

Just Posted

Salesforce Tower and several other buildings in downtown San Francisco can be seen through the fog; climate scientists report that The City’s beloved mascot may be on the decline. (Courtesy Engel Ching)
Is San Francisco losing its fog? Scientists fear the worst

This isn’t just an identity crisis for San Franciscans. It’s an ecological problem

The Bay Area is vying to be one of 16 communities,<ins> spread across the U.S., Canada and Mexico,</ins> to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup soccer championships. Games would be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. (Courtesy Bay Area Host Committee, World Cup 2026)
Bay Area launches bid to host World Cup games in 2026

FIFA officials pay San Francisco a visit as they tour prospective venues

San Francisco City Administrator Carmen Chu, who took office in February, is in the process of restructuring the sprawling department. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli/Special to The Examiner)
Report knocks city administrator for inefficiency, lack of transparency

‘A culture that allows corruption to take place’

Outside Lands boasts high-quality food and drink from dozens of purveyors, and many are local.<ins> (Courtesy Outside Lands)</ins>
Outside Lands is for food lovers

85 food vendors, 40 wineries, 30 breweries make the festival nourishing to gluttonous

Most Read