Muscarelle Museum of Art

College of William and Mary

Williamsburg, VA



Georgia O'Keeffe in Williamsburg: A Re-Creation of the Artist's First Public Exhibition in the South


The Muscarelle Museum of Art will re-create and document a forgotten exhibition of one of the twentieth century's most noted artists, Georgia O'Keeffe. The presentation of Georgia O'Keeffe in Williamsburg: A Re-Creation of the Artist's First Public Exhibition in the South is being generously sponsored by MBNA America in honor of Thomas A. Graves, Jr. President Emeritus of The College of William and Mary.

The original exhibition was held at the College in 1938 when William and Mary conferred an honorary doctorate in the fine arts on the artist. Georgia O'Keeffe in Williamsburg will document this lost exhibition and highlight the special relationship between O'Keeffe and the College. After its premier in Williamsburg, the show will travel to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and will be on view June 23 - October 21, 2001.

Georgia O'Keeffe lived with her family in Williamsburg, Virginia, between 1903 and 1909. Her two brothers attended The College of William and Mary. After completing high school, O'Keeffe left Williamsburg to pursue an art career, and by the 1930s she was generally acknowledged as one of America's leading artists. In recognition of her achievements, the College bestowed an honorary degree in the fine arts on the artist in 1938. It was the first honorary degree in the fine arts ever granted by William and Mary and the first honorary degree received by Georgia O'Keeffe. She is also the only artist ever to receive this degree from the College in its 300 year history. (left: Georgia O'Keeffe on the campus of The College of William and Mary to receive an honorary degree, with John Stewart Bryan, president of the College, 1938. Times World Wide Photos, courtesy of University Archives, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA)

Two special events commemorated the occasion. One was the gift to the College from Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., of an O'Keeffe painting entitled White Flower. The second was an exhibition of O'Keeffe paintings organized by the artist and Alfred Stieglitz, her husband and tireless promoter. Stieglitz and O'Keeffe selected eight paintings -- a survey of the artist's work during the previous ten years -- that were displayed at the College from May 4 through May 9, 1938. The subjects included four flower paintings, one view of New York City, two southwestern landscapes, and one of the "bone" paintings that were to become a seminal part of the artist's oeuvre. (left: Georgia O'Keeffe, White Flower, 1932, oil on panel, 16 x 20 inches, Gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.)

Much has been written about O'Keeffe, her work and her place in the history of American art, as well as her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz. Yet the 1938 exhibition has been completely forgotten. In the extensive bibliography pertaining to Georgia O'Keeffe, there are a few references to the granting of the honorary degree but no documentation whatsoever about the exhibition. Even the present-day owners of the eight paintings have been unaware of the 1938 exhibition.

Curator of Collections Ann C. Madonia conducted research into this "lost" exhibition, using the rich resources available in the College's Archives and Special Collections Department. Correspondence among O'Keeffe, Stieglitz, the president of the College (John Stewart Bryan) and the chairman of the Art Department (Leslie Cheek Jr.) was discovered, along with a list of the eight paintings in the exhibition, shedding light on the impact of this event in the artist's life.

This information was shared with Dr. Barbara Buhler Lynes, a noted O'Keeffe scholar and author of The Georgia O'Keeffe Catalogue Raisonné, during her visit to the Muscarelle Museum of Art to document the O'Keeffe painting, White Flower. Dr. Lynes subsequently included White Flower and a reference to the 1938 Williamsburg exhibition in her documentation of each of the eight paintings in the Catalogue Raisonné (which presents more than 2,000 works by Georgia O'Keeffe in a variety of media, displays her innovative use of color and form, and sheds light on her distinctive contribution to American modernism). published in 1999. This is the first -- and to date the only -- published identification of the eight paintings included in the 1938 exhibition. Today, four of these paintings are in private collections, and the remaining four are in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago ; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden Nebraska; and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, New Mexico. Dr. Lynes is serving as the consultant for the Georgia O'Keeffe in Williamsburg exhibition.

Along with the eight paintings, the exhibition will feature a selection of previously unknown original correspondence, photographs and other unique documents. In addition to organizing the exhibition, the Muscarelle Museum of Art will publish a catalogue documenting the original 1938 exhibition. This catalogue will add substantially to O'Keeffe scholarship, opening a window to the collaborative work of Stieglitz and O'Keeffe in the organization of an exhibition that was important to the artist at a crucial point in her career.

The exhibition will also feature the premier of a home movie documenting parts of the 1938 honorary degree ceremony. The movie -- previously unknown to anyone outside of the O'Keeffe family -- shows the artist, President Bryan and College faculty marching across campus, and also pictures O'Keeffe with members of her family. Remarkably surviving the test of time, the film was recently acquired by the O'Keeffe Museum and has been transferred to video for display during the exhibition.

Three special gallery talks have been scheduled to complement the exhibition. On Thursdays, March 15, 22, and April 5, Barbara Buhler Lynes, Director of the Georgia O'Keeffe Research Institute and Curator of Collections at the O'Keeffe Museum in Sante Fe, NM; Ann C. Madonia, Curator of Collections, Muscarelle Museum of Art; and Bonnie G. Kelm, Director, Muscarelle Museum of Art, and Associate Professor of Art & Art History, respectively, will highlight different aspects of the show. The gallery talks will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Muscarelle Museum of Art.


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Read More in Resource Library Magazine about Muscarelle Museum of Art .

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/6/11

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