Apples No. 11920 by Georgia O'Keeffe

c. 1920

In the early 1920s, following a period of experimentation with abstract design, Georgia O’Keeffe returned to the still life tradition she had studied under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League in 1907-08. Living in the rural environment of Lake George, New York, with Alfred Stieglitz, O'Keeffe completed a series of fruit and vegetable still lifes exploring the juxtaposition of supple, organic forms against ambiguous, largely monochrome backgrounds. As Jonathan Stuhlman describes, "This series allowed O'Keeffe to reconsider her approach to composition and pictorial relationships. The traditional subject matter, simplified forms, carefully constructed compositions, spatial compression, and tipped-up perspective call to mind not only [Paul] Strand's photographs of 1916, but also the work of Cézanne, who by the 1910s had come to be known as one of the fathers of modernism." (Georgia O'Keeffe: Circling Around Abstraction, exhibition catalogue, West Palm Beach, Florida, 2007, p. 24)

During these years, O'Keeffe was particularly drawn to the simple shapes of the alligator pear and apple. As Stieglitz wrote in a letter, "She has the apple fever." (as quoted in S.W. Peters, Becoming O'Keeffe: The Early Years, New York, 2001, p. 235) In Apples--No. I, O'Keeffe places two pieces of this favorite fruit atop the sharp corner of a dark gray tabletop. The background is largely a mysterious void of angular surfaces; however, the apples, though simplified, are painted to reflect their unique fluctuations in shape and hue, and thus a sense of individuality. Hunter Drohojowska-Philp even posits, "On a deeper, more symbolic level...the titles of O'Keeffe's apple paintings [with several examples called "Apple Family"] suggest that the apples themselves represent various family members. Apples--No. seemingly a portrait of Stieglitz and herself." (H. Drohojowska-Philp, Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 2004, p. 188)
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Media: oil on canvas