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O’Keeffe Museum says sale a ‘sacrifice’

SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe’s Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is selling “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” one of the most iconic paintings by the New Mexico artist.

With an auction estimate of $10-$15 million, the painting will be one of three sold by Sotheby’s New York on Nov. 20. Also to be sold are “On the Old Santa Fe Road” (1930/31), estimated at $2-3 million, and “Untitled (Skunk Cabbage)” (1927), estimated at $500,000-$700,000.

The museum board decided to sell the works to benefit its acquisition fund, museum director Robert Kret said.

"Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1," painted by Georgia O'Keeffe in 1932 and one of her most iconic paintings, is one of three being sold by the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

“Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” painted by Georgia O’Keeffe in 1932 and one of her most iconic paintings, is one of three being sold by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

O’Keeffe curator Cody Hartley said the museum agreed to the sale in part because of the painting’s iconic stature.

“It is a sacrifice, I’m not kidding you,” he said in a telephone interview from Santa Fe.

The O’Keeffe’s current acquisition fund stands at about $750,000, not nearly high enough to bid for major works by the artist, he said.

The O’Keeffe is financially stable, Hartley added.

“The museum has never been in a better financial position,” he said. “Our operating endowment recently passed $50 million.”

Hartley said he had specific works in mind, but declined to name them. During her lifetime, O’Keeffe donated paintings to museums across the country.

“As you might imagine, I don’t want to share,” he said. “If I reveal what I’m going for, those prices automatically go up.”

The majority of the O’Keeffe Museum’s current collection came from The Burnett Foundation, as well as the now-dissolved Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, Hartley said. The Burnett has told museum officials there would be no more substantial gifts.

“Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1” (1932) was last displayed in the museum about three weeks ago, Hartley said, as part of the “Abiquiu Views” exhibition.

While museum visitors haven’t specifically asked to see that painting, most want to see the flower paintings they expect from O’Keeffe. But that series comprised just 8 percent of her output, Hartley said.

“While people are drawn into the flowers, she painted so much more and was much more fascinating in her range of subject material.”

The artist’s “Bella Donna” painting, also in the museum’s collection, bears a close resemblance to the Jimson weed piece, he added. The other two works also reflect similar paintings already in the collection.

“Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1” (1932) will be on view in Los Angeles and Hong Kong before returning to New York for exhibition at Sotheby’s New York Avenue galleries beginning Nov. 15.

“Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1” was originally owned by the artist’s sister, Anita O’Keeffe Young, whose estate was sold at Sotheby’s in 1987. It was subsequently included in two private collections before being donated to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum by The Burnett Foundation in 1996.

The painting hung in the White House for six years at the request of first lady Laura Bush and has been featured in nearly every retrospective on the artist, including exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of Art in New York.

O’Keeffe first saw Jimson weed growing in northern New Mexico, a setting that would come to define much of her career. Spanning 48 by 40 inches, it marks a rare instance early in O’Keeffe’s career where she chose a canvas size noticeably larger than her usual format.

“On the Old Santa Fe Road” captures the rugged geological forms and brilliant colors of the American Southwest. “Untitled (Skunk Cabbage)” was painted before the artist’s first visit to New Mexico. It focuses on the smaller form of the plant, one of the first to bloom in the spring.

The current record for a work by O’Keeffe is $6.2 million, set at Christie’s New York in 2001.

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