Flower Abstraction, a landmark painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, will be on view in the American Scene Gallery from January 23 through August 31. The Whitney Museum of American Art generously loaned the painting to the Figge in reciprocity for the numerous Grant Wood artworks and other items from the City of Davenport Art Collection included in the exhibition Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables, on view at the Whitney from March 2 through June 10.
Flower Abstraction was painted in 1924 when O’Keeffe had joined the circle of avant-garde artists that formed around the charismatic photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, whom she would later marry. The cropping of the image reflects the influence of photographers such as Paul Strand, who were using the camera to make innovative abstract images. By enlarging and abstracting her subject, O’Keeffe sought to call attention to her own singular view of nature. As she wrote:
“A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower—the idea of flowers. You put out your hand and touch the flower—lean forward to smell it—maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking—or give it to someone to please them. Still—in a way—nobody sees a flower—really—it is so small—and we haven’t time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small. So I said to myself—I’ll paint what I see—what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it—I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”
O’Keeffe’s flower paintings caught the attention of critics, who interpreted their soft colors and ruffled forms as an expression of female eroticism and the sensibilities of a woman artist. To which O’Keeffe responded: “Well—I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower—and I don’t.”
Image Credit: Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986), Flower Abstraction, 1924, oil on canvas, 48 1/8 30 in., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 50th Anniversary Gift of Sandra Payson, 85.47, © 2017 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Digital image © Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Photograph: Georgia O'Keeffe, 1918. Portrait by Alfred Stieglitz; courtesy Everett/CSU Archives.