Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Santa Fe, NM



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


A "lost" Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition will be on view at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum beginning on June 23, 2001. The original show included nine paintings and took place in 1938 at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, in conjunction with O'Keeffe receiving an honorary degree from the college that year. At that time O'Keeffe, age 51, was a leading American artist, considered one of the country's foremost modernists. Georgia O'Keeffe in Williamsburg: A Re-Creation of the Artist's First Public Exhibition in the South, will also display previously unknown O'Keeffe letters and will run through October 21, 2001.

The exhibition was O'Keeffe's first public exhibition in the South. Eight of its nine paintings were chosen by O'Keeffe and her husband and agent Alfred Stieglitz, and one, White Flower, had been given to the college by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of Colonial Williamsburg patron John. D. Rockefeller, when she heard that O'Keeffe would be receiving an honorary degree at the college, and that the school was organizing a show of O'Keeffe's recent paintings. The exhibition includes four paintings of either leaves, flowers, or trees; a depiction of New York City buildings; and three Southwestern landscapes, two of which also include either flowers or bones.

On display for only six days, eight of the paintings were returned to Stieglitz's gallery and the exhibition had since been forgotten. In the extensive O'Keeffe bibliography, there are a few references to the granting of O'Keeffe's honorary degree, but no documentation about the exhibition. Even the present-day owners of the paintings were unaware of the 1938 exhibition. Today, four of these paintings are in private collections. Five are in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Nebraska; the Muscarelle Museum of Art, Williamsburg, VA; and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

The new exhibition will also feature recently discovered O'Keeffe correspondence, photographs and other historical documents, including parts of a film-never before viewed publicly-capturing O'Keeffe on the William and Mary campus to receive the honorary degree. Surviving intact for more than half a century, the film was recently acquired by the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and was loaned to the Muscarelle and (thanks to a grant from Exxon Mobil Corporation) parts of it were transferred to a video that will be on view at the exhibition.

The re-creation of the 1938 show came about through the collaboration of Barbara Buhler Lynes, curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and the Emily Fisher Landau director of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center, and Bonnie G. Kelm and Ann Madonia, the Muscarelle's director and curator of collections respectively. Madonia discovered a list of paintings for the 1938 show while researching the museum's O'Keeffe painting White Flower. Lynes was able to verify that Stieglitz wrote the list, and she identified the paintings on it, although the process was not as straightforward as one might think because the titles and dates provided by Stieglitz often did not match the current dates and titles of the paintings. "There were enough clues in the language he (Stieglitz) used for me to identify eight of the nine pictures with certainty," Lynes said.

While she is most often associated with New Mexico, O'Keeffe lived with her family in Williamsburg between 1903 and 1909, and her two brothers attended William and Mary. After high school, O'Keeffe left Williamsburg to pursue an art career, and by the 1930s was generally acknowledged as one of America's leading artists. In recognition of her achievements, the college awarded O'Keeffe an honorary degree in fine arts-her first-in 1938. Always an intensively private person, O'Keeffe did not give a speech at the commencement ceremony. She wrote to the president of the college before the ceremony, "My achievement stands in color. To translate it to the word has been very difficult ­ may I say quite impossible ­ so that I am glad you will have the paintings to speak for me."

O'Keeffe in Williamsburg premiered Jan. 27, 2001 at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary. Please see our article and images on this exhibition: Georgia O'Keeffe in Williamsburg: A Re-Creation of the Artist's First Public Exhibition in the South (10/4/00)


Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Resource Library.

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

rev. 9/10/10, 12/10/10

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