Paintings of Lake George by Georgia O’Keeffe at the Hyde Collection


GLENS FALLS, NY — If you’re a casual Georgia O’Keeffe fan, you probably think of New Mexico when you think of her. After all, she lived there for decades and avidly explored the landscape in her work and life, collecting rocks and bones and accolades as one of America’s most famous painters.

But long before O’Keeffe went deep into the desert, his life included a period in the considerably lusher climes of upstate New York, on Lake George, the glacial lake in the Adirondacks near here where she spent a series of summers – creating dozens of paintings – while staying with Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer, art promoter and eventual husband, whose family kept a small estate there.

Today, for the first time, some five dozen of these creations have been brought together in an exhibition – “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George” – at the Hyde Collection, a small museum in this modest, well-kept town of about 15,000 people, one hour north of Albany.

And in an impressive show of upstate pride, the Hyde exhibit, which opened here in June, has already set attendance records, drawing thousands of visitors to see some of O’Keeffe’s vivid reflections. about a lesser-known chapter of his life. This includes a rediscovered painting – “Lake George, Autumn 1922” – which was found by a great-niece of Stieglitz and hasn’t been seen in public since the Roaring Twenties, according to exhibit organizers.

It’s an exhibit – drawn from more than three dozen collections – that its organizers hope will undeniably establish a connection between O’Keeffe and the lake, always a popular summer tourist attraction whose current attractions include budget motels. , mini-golf and more upscale hotels and residences.

“O’Keeffe always developed a strong attachment to place, and Lake George is a place she had a deep connection to,” said Erin Coe, chief curator of the Hyde Collection. “And it’s one of the first and most enduring.”

And while Ms Coe noted that O’Keeffe was nomadic – with stints in New York and even Hawaii – “it’s really New Mexico and Lake George where she has the longest residence”, she said. she declared.

Ms Coe spent five years putting the show together, overcoming a number of hurdles, not the least of which was the Hyde – which was founded by a local stationery heiress and now has an extensive collection of 3,000 pieces – did not have a single painting by Georgia O’Keeffe. Instead, Ms. Coe traveled to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe to examine its authoritative collection and consult Barbara Buhler Lynes, an O’Keeffe scholar.

Using Ms. Buhler Lynes’ catalog, Ms. Coe created a database that identified – to her surprise – around 200 Lake George-related works, or around a quarter of O’Keeffe’s paintings. “That was one of the first triggers to propel me forward,” Ms Coe said. “Because I was able to make the case to other museums, to my colleagues and even to the staff here at the Hyde, to get everyone on board. Because it is a very expensive proposition.

At a cost of around $750,000, “Modern Nature” is the most expensive exhibit ever for the Hyde, said Charles A. Guerin, director of the museum, who took over earlier this year. Mr Guerin knew a thing or two about Western artists – he had previously worked as executive director of the University of Arizona Museum of Art – and was impressed by O’Keeffe’s prodigious production in Lake George .

“Repeating the same things over and over really gave him time to really reinforce that analytical sense between abstraction and realism,” Guerin said. “And that sense of how to abstract what’s real becomes stronger and stronger and stronger and stronger and more representative of his mature self.”

And in many ways, the Hyde was a perfect choice for the show. Glens Falls is less than 10 miles from the south shore of Lake George, where Stieglitz’s family once owned some 40 acres of property, with gardens, pastures and a studio for O’Keeffe. She began visiting the lake in 1918 and continued to visit until 1934 when her attentions began to turn west.

But her visits were not brief, Ms Coe said; it usually came in April and sometimes stayed until November or the first snow (although, as Adirondack guys can tell you, the first snow can sometimes arrive well before November). During his time with the Stieglitz family—a large and sometimes rowdy clan—O’Keeffe hiked, rowed, gardened, and generally took it all. “I wish you could see the place here,” she wrote in 1923 to novelist Sherwood Anderson. . “There is something so perfect about the mountains, the lake and the trees. Sometimes I want to tear everything to pieces – it looks so perfect – but it’s really adorable.

Many of these images found their way into his paintings, including those of the Hyde.

They include 1922’s “Starlight Night, Lake George,” a dark blue landscape dotted with globes of dock lights and stars; “Storm Cloud, Lake George”, a year later, a darker canvas, the mountains in silhouette with a flare of light above; and “The Old Maple”, from 1926, a tribute to a knotted climbing tree on the Stieglitz estate.

And then, of course, there are the flowers, those magnified and seemingly sensual floras that in many ways made O’Keeffe’s reputation as a sexual and artistic revolutionary. (Although it was a rendition of her work that she despised.) The Hyde show has several striking examples: a fiery red canna from 1919; a delicate pink petunia from 1924; and a series of curved burgundy desks, borrowed from the National Gallery and dating from 1930.

Lisa Messinger, a former associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who studied O’Keeffe, said many of her “really big, really enlarged flowers, where you really look at the heart of the flower” came from Lake George. time.

“Before coming to New York, she was doing very abstract painting and charcoal drawings, and the Lake George pictures are the flowers and the tree paintings, where they almost take on this human persona,” she said. .

Ms Messinger added that she was shocked that no exhibition had ever focused exclusively on O’Keeffe’s period in Lake George, although the artist may have been partly to blame. After relocating to New Mexico in 1949—Stieglitz had died three years before—O’Keeffe made a conscious effort to recreate herself as a different type of painter. “Increasingly after moving to New Mexico, she presented herself as a desert artist,” said Cody Hartley, director of curatorial affairs at the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

In short, a desert artist does not play out her days as a guest at a lakeside estate. (The Hyde put together an accompanying exhibition of Stieglitz photographs of the complex and some of its residents and visitors.) But Mr. Hartley argued that the Lake George era was indeed worth examining, calling it ” incredibly important and formative period in its history”. the life.”

Like O’Keeffe herself, the Hyde exhibit will soon be heading west; after closing here in mid-September, “Modern Nature” will be seen at the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, followed by a stint at the de Young in San Francisco. And while these two institutions are undeniably better known than the Hyde, Ms. Coe and Mr. Guerin seem happy to have shed some light on how O’Keeffe’s lakeside beginnings informed her of an undeniably drier art.

“Lake George,” Ms. Coe said, “gave him those tools.”


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