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Georgia o'keeffe (nude)

  • USA
  • 2006-02-15
About the object
Palladium print, mounted to buff board, inscribed 'treated by Steichen' by Doris Bry in pencil on the mount, matted, in a modern white metal frame, 1919
This intimate, explicit study of Georgia O’Keeffe nude was one of a select group of 22 images Alfred Stieglitz gave to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1928 (see also Lots 10 and 23).  In this group, chosen by Stieglitz as his best and most representative work, were seven studies of O’Keeffe, of which this was one.  Stylistically, the cropping of the torso, with its uplifted arms and muscular thighs, may owe its inspiration to the sculpture of Auguste Rodin, whose work Stieglitz knew and had shown in the galleries of the Photo-Secession.  Like some of Rodin’s sculptures, the headless torso offered here, with its uplifted arms and muscular thighs, has a timeless, heroic quality.  Rodin, one of the most famous artists in the world at the turn of the last century, enjoyed a reputation for controversial modernism. At the urging of Edward Steichen, the galleries of the Photo-Secession had shown a group of Rodin drawings of the female nude in 1908, frankly sensual drawings that had caused a stir in the New York art world.  One of the visitors to the Rodin drawings show was the young Georgia O’Keeffe, enrolled at that time at the Art Students League in New York.  This was her first introduction to Stieglitz and his gallery, although they did not meet when she came to the exhibition, and it would be nearly ten years later before their real relationship began.
In 1921, Alfred Stieglitz exhibited the present image in a major show of his own photographs at his friend Mitchell Kennerley’s Anderson Galleries.  This ground-breaking show drew record attendance—thousands of people thronged to the Park Avenue galleries in less than a month—and among the most moving, and controversial, images in the show were the more than 40 photographs from Stieglitz’s multiple portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe.  ‘Hands, feet, hands and breasts, torsos, all parts and attitudes of the human body seen with a passion of revelation, produced an astonishing effect on the multitudes who wandered in and out of the rooms,’ wrote Stieglitz’s friend Herbert Seligmann (America and Alfred Stieglitz, Garden City, 1934, p. 116).  In her biography of her great-uncle, Sue Davidson Lowe has written that the public ‘was electrified,’ and of the O’Keeffe series in particular, that ‘women who saw the prints were often moved to tears’ (Stieglitz: A Memoir/Biography, New York, 1983, p. 241).  Conveying as they do both emotion and intimacy, the nude studies of O’Keeffe transcend the merely sensual.
Remembering the impact of the Anderson Galleries show, and the photographs of her in particular, O’Keeffe later wrote,
‘When his photographs of me were first shown, it was in a room at the Anderson Galleries.  Several men—after looking around a while—asked Stieglitz if he would photograph their wives or girlfriends the way he photographed me.  He was very amused and laughed about it.  If they had known the close relationship he would have needed to have to photograph their wives or girlfriends the way he photographed me—I think they wouldn’t have been interested’ (Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait by Alfred Stieglitz, New York, 1978, unpaginated).
In Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set: The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Photographs, Sarah Greenough locates in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.,  a palladium-platinum print (Greenough 509) and a gelatin silver print (Greenough 510) made from this negative (OK 34 D).  Additionally, Greenough lists palladium prints at The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and in a private collection; and gelatin silver prints at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and The Art Institute of Chicago.  Doris Bry, in her census of prints of this image, accounts for the prints listed above, as well as an additional palladium print in a private collection.   Bry also points out that the private collection print listed by Greenough is now in the collection of the Museé d’Orsay. 

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