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Art: Skulls & Feathers

3 minute read

Explained a suave young gentleman in the austerely bare Manhattan Gallery of Alfred Stieglitz last week:

“Yes, it is crowded. Our other artists attract a very special class of visitor, but O’Keeffe always brings the general public.”

The statement was only partially true. Lean, sober-faced Georgia O’Keeffe is far better known to the general public than most of the other artists under the protective wing of her dealer husband, but to Miss O’Keeffe’s embarrassment, every time a showing of her paintings is held, it attracts half the amateur theosophists, swamis, faith healers and founders of new cults in Manhattan, anxious to read hidden meanings into her brilliantly colored, smoothly painted studies of skulls, feathers, roses, bones, morning glories and strange black crosses. In the new paintings exhibited last week, Artist O’Keeffe had given up crosses for turkey feathers, but the skill and the brilliant color are as obvious as ever.

“On the craft side,” wrote New York Times Critic Edward Alden Jewell, “Georgia O’Keeffe seems now to be doing the most brilliant work of her career.”

Completely recovered from the illness that kept her from painting for two years, she painted during the past year all but one of the 21 canvases on view, some of them in New Mexico, the rest in her Manhattan penthouse.

Daughter of an Irish father and Hungarian mother, Georgia O’Keeffe was born in Sun Prairie, Wis. 49 years ago. At the Manhattan Art Students’ League in 1905 she was dark, handsome, known to every one as Patsy. But soon she gagged at the sort of painting she was being taught, went off to earn her living in various advertis ing agencies, later became a public school art supervisor in Amarillo, Tex.

While teaching drawing at the University of Virginia in the summer of 1915, she felt that at last she could paint the way she wanted to paint. With charcoal she covered sheets and sheets with neat abstract drawings, sent them to a friend in Manhattan with specific instructions not to show them to anyone else. Anita Pollitzer, the friend, could hardly wait to rush the drawings to Dealer Alfred Stieglitz who promptly gave them an exhibition. Enraged, Georgia O’Keeffe went rushing north to protest: Stieglitz argued back. Nine years later they were married.

The wedding in 1924 was not quite so quiet as the bride & groom had planned. The best man, famed Watercolorist John Marin, met the couple at the Weehawken ferry with the Chandler touring car his son, John Jr. still drives, smashed a lamp post and a grocery wagon and fought with a policeman before his friends were delivered to a justice of the peace at Cliffside, N. J.

Like most critics, Husband Stieglitz felt that the ablest picture in last week’s show was Slimmer Days, showing a deer’s skull floating in the sky above a scattering of bright field flowers, then beneath, the misty mountains of New Mexico.

“But I don’t like the title,” said Alfred Stieglitz. “In fact I hate it.”

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