By many accounts, Georgia O’Keeffe painted, sketched, and drew outdoors frequently and in sometimes rough country. And she spent one of the most prolific decades of her life working in Upstate New York, on the Stieglitz family estate on Lake George. But was she plein air painting, or gathering reference material?


“Lake George Barns,” by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1926, oil, 21 3/16 x 32 1/16 in. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Gift of the T. B. Walker Foundation, 1954

A new, traveling exhibition, “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George,” presents a good survey of her work in the bucolic Adirondacks, and argues that the assertion that the artist disliked her time on Lake George is not entirely true. “The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is thrilled to see this groundbreaking effort to exhibit some familiar and several rarely seen works of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Lake George paintings,” says Robert A. Kret, director of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. “The exhibition demonstrates how this was indeed a positive and transformative period in the artist’s life and work.”

But was she painting her finished pieces on-site, or just studies for studio work?


“From the Lake, No. 3,” by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1924, oil, 36 x 30 in. Philadelphia Museum of Art Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1987 The Hyde Collection


“Autumn Leaves,” by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1924, oil, 20 1/4 x 16 3/8 in. Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio Museum Purchase, Howald Fund II, 1981.006

“All evidence suggests that Georgia O’Keeffe enjoyed spending time outdoors,” explains Erin Coe, the chief curator at the Hyde Collection, and the curator of the current show. “At Lake George, for example, she rowed, hiked, and gardened. She also devoted considerable amounts of time to observing nature, making sketches and studies in pencil or watercolor, but O’Keeffe was first and foremost a studio artist. In 1920, while living at Lake George, she converted an old barn into her studio and nicknamed it the ‘shanty.’ The importance of having a dedicated space, whether at Lake George, in New York City, or New Mexico, reflects the primacy of studio practice, which evolved out of O’Keeffe’s training and was suited to her rigorous and precise working methods.”


“The Chestnut Grey,” by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1924, oil, 36 x 30 1/8 in. Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis, Minnesota

“Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George” will be on view at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York, until September 15. Then it will travel to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, where it will be on view from October 4 to January 26, 2014, and then on to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young Museum from February 15 through May 11, 2014. A fully illustrated, 200-page catalog of the exhibition is available through the publisher Thames & Hudson.


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