Audio Guide - Adult
Georgia O'Keeffe, American, 1887 - 1986
Medium: Oil on canvas
Painting: 19 1/8 x 16 in. (48.6 x 40.6 cm)
Frame: 20 1/2 x 17 1/2 x 1 3/4 in. (52.1 x 44.5 x 4.4 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Art Today
Object Number: 76.7
Copyright: © The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Along with the other artists in the circle of photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe was intent on developing a new American painting that was aware of European modernism, but that reflected contemporary American culture. Through abstraction—the use of heightened and arbitrary color, simplification of form, and distortion—these artists explored industrialization, commerce, and the natural American landscape.
In 1929, O’Keeffe began painting New Mexico. It was an important moment that signaled a change in her subject matter, away from flowers and cityscapes, and toward an emphasis on the landscape of the Southwest. This change, however, was also an attempt to circumvent the Freudian readings of her images, and offered a larger framework for exploring Americanness. In Hawaii, O’Keeffe found many of the same features she admired in the desert landscapes of New Mexico.
Dole Pineapple Company hired O’Keeffe in 1939 to produce two images to be used for advertising. She spent more than two months traveling in Hawaii and completed twenty paintings. Some, including the two that were featured in Dole ads in Vogue and The Saturday Evening Post, were not completed until after her return to New York.1 Waterfall—No.1 is the first of three versions of the Iao Valley, Maui, a place sacred to Hawaiians. The image continues her interest in indigenous religions, evidenced in her earlier works of pueblo churches. The smoky cloud hanging in the upper valley evokes an ethereal quality suggesting a primeval and holy place. As is typical of her style, O'Keeffe brings the landscape to the surface of the canvas, filling the space. Nature is transformed—smoothed out, monumentalized, and flattened into large simplified forms painted in a reduced palette. The light green to the sides frames the darker green of the center, pulling one’s eye into the verdant distance. The waterfall is evoked through a simplified gray-white line of paint that appears and reappears as it moves through the valley. More than a subjective interpretation of objects and nature, O’Keeffe’s landscape evokes a timelessness that transcends actual location or objects depicted.
1. Jennifer Saville, Georgia O’Keeffe: Paintings of Hawaii (Honolulu: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1990), 17-18.