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Georgia o'keeffe (hands)

  • USA
  • 2006-02-15
About the object
Palladium print, numbered 'OK 25 E' by Doris Bry in pencil on the reverse, matted, in a modern white metal frame, 1919; accompanied by an earlier modern white metal frame, with Gilman Paper Company and Doris Bry labels on the reverse
Throughout Alfred Stieglitz’s multi-decade, multi-image portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe, the painter’s mobile and expressive hands are frequently a focal point.  Among the very first images that Stieglitz took of O’Keeffe, made shortly after their meeting in 1916, are several that focus on her hands, including one in which they are held before a watercolor by the artist (Greenough 459).  Stieglitz’s initial preoccupation with O’Keeffe’s hands seems natural, as they were the hands that created the drawings and paintings that had so overwhelmed him.  It is interesting to note, however, that while Stieglitz had created a large body of portraiture of the artists and photographers in his circle, their hands rarely, if ever, play as significant role in the composition.  As his relationship with O’Keeffe grew more intimate, and the portrait project began to include semi-nude and nude studies, Stieglitz never lost his fascination for her hands.  As late as 1933, Stieglitz made a number of studies solely of O’Keeffe’s hands, including the iconic image of her braceleted hand delineating the curve of the spare tire of her Ford V-8 (Greenough 1519).
The hand study offered here is as much a portrait of the artist as any of the images from the series, perhaps more so than those that focus on her face or the overtly sensuous nude studies.  With this study, Stieglitz concentrates on the parts of O’Keeffe’s body that, along with her eyes, are most responsible for her art.  O’Keeffe was an eminently practical person, and her hands were a principal interface with the world; the only other Stieglitz study of O’Keeffe’s hands to come to auction (Christie’s New York, 8 October 1993, Lot 80) show’s the artist’s nimble hands working with a needle and thimble.   O’Keeffe’s hands were also capable of expressing, or suggesting, emotion, as in the image offered here, in which a particularly fraught gesture is set in relief against a black background.   The narrow dark outline that models the edge of O’Keeffe’s lower hand is due to Stieglitz’s solarization of the print.  Frequently, when working with palladium paper, Stieglitz would solarize, or overexpose, the print during processing.  In Stieglitz’s deft hands, this technique resulted in prints with greater tonal weight, and the subtle and selective reversal of tones seen in this print.
In Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set: The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Photographs, Sarah Greenough locates 4 other prints of this image: at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.; the George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Doris Bry’s census accounts for two additional prints: a platinum print in a private collection, and a gelatin silver print in the Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.  Bry lists the date of the negative as 1918.

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