Georgia O'Keeffe (1887 - 1986)

Lot 60: Georgia O'Keeffe 1887-1986 , White Barn with Cart (White Barn No. 4) oil on canvas


December 3, 2008
New York, NY, US

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Description: oil on canvas
Dimensions: measurements 11 3/4 by 29 3/4 in. alternate measurements (29.8 by 75.6 cm)
Literature: Barbara Buhler Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, no. 808, p. 497, illustrated in color
Provenance: The Downtown Gallery, New York
Private collection, Miami, Florida, 1950 (acquired from the above)
By descent in the family to present owner
In their search for a national art, artists in Stieglitz's circle frequently turned to subjects and themes they viewed as an expression of authentic and uniquely American values. The barn was a distinctively American architectural type which symbolized the heartland of America, its agrarian roots, and its puritan work ethic. Its simplified lines and functionalism appealed to the spare, rigorous precisionist aesthetic most often associated with Charles Sheeler. O'Keeffe explored a less exacting precisionist aesthetic to varying degrees during her career in paintings such as White Barn with Cart. O'Keeffe's attraction to barns as a subject was also deeply personal. Born and raised on a farm in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, she wrote: "The barn is a very healthy part of me--There should be more of it--It is something that I know too--it is my childhood--I seem to be one of the few people I know of to have no complaints against my first twelve years" (Becoming O'Keeffe: The Early Years, 1991, p. 281). Her 1928 painting, Red Barn, Wisconsin (Walker Art Center), depicts a barn as a comfortable shelter from stormy weather. The surrounding landscape, with its weedy grass, white picket fence, and scraps of wood leaning against a stone foundation, refer to the functionality of the farm while the door ajar suggests a welcome space. Some of O'Keeffe's earliest paintings of barns feature those located on the family estate of her husband Alfred Stieglitz in Lake George, New York. She converted one of the barns on the property into a studio as a place to escape from the demands made by the constant stream of summer visitors, about whom she frequently complained in her letters from this period. Painted in 1927, Lake George Barns (Private collection) is typical of this series featuring the rectilinear forms of the barn in a serene palette of cool colors. White Barn with Cart was painted during a 1932 visit to the rural Gaspé country in eastern Canada. This trip was partly an attempt to escape her husband during their customary summer stay at Lake George. Stieglitz had been carrying on an affair with Dorothy Norman, a married woman whom he photographed frequently, and in whose name he placed the lease to his gallery later that year. In her barn subjects from this trip, O'Keeffe seems to revel in the austere simplicity of the barn, focusing on its fundamental formal qualities of line and color. As with other barn paintings from the Canadian series, such as White Canadian Barn No. 2 (1932, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), the structures assume an anonymous, inaccessible quality. The clean lines and reductive composition gives the images a deceptive simplicity, yet the formal rigor creates an impenetrable façade. In O'Keefe's hands this symbol of bucolic comfort is transformed into a protective, but inaccessible space not unlike O'Keeffe's private studio where she sought refuge from the outside world. Less than eight months after she painted these Canadian barn scenes, O'Keeffe suffered a breakdown and was admitted to a hospital with a diagnosis of psychoneurosis, only fully recovering nearly a year later.
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