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Santa Fe museum acquires ‘significant’ O’Keeffe painting

"The Barns, Lake George, 1926," oil on canvas by Georgia O'Keeffe. (Courtesy of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum)

“The Barns, Lake George, 1926,” oil on canvas by Georgia O’Keeffe. (Courtesy of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Lost amid Georgia O’Keeffe’s legendary florals and landscapes stand the highly abstracted barns she painted in upstate New York.

Last week, Santa Fe’s Georgia O’Keeffe Museum filled a significant hole in its collection by buying “The Barns, Lake George, 1926” at Christie’s for $3.3 million.

“For us, it’s a significant, important piece in our collection because of the historical moment of this period,” O’Keeffe curator Carolyn Kastner said. “It will be a great addition for us to tell the story of her continued experience of abstraction. Our visitors don’t know that story.”

The painting, which has not been publicly exhibited in 50 years, portrays three rustic barns that surrounded the Alfred Stieglitz family property overlooking the shores of Lake George in New York. Stieglitz was an impresario, photographer and gallery owner. He and O’Keeffe married in 1924. The pair regularly vacationed at Lake George while they lived in Manhattan.

“This is a very distilled view of a bucolic subject,” Kastner continued in describing the painting. “It’s a flat perspective of these geometric forms.”

“The Barns, Lake George, 1926” was shown during the artist’s lifetime at the O’Keeffe retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It has hung in the private collection of Marion “Kippy” Stroud, an arts patron and founder of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, since 1946. Stroud died in August.

The painting will go on view at the O’Keeffe Museum sometime within the coming months.

“It will need to be reframed and protected,” Kastner said.

In the summer of 1929, O’Keeffe made the first of many trips to northern New Mexico. She made the state her permanent home in 1949.

Although O’Keeffe produced only a handful of barn paintings, the images have become symbolic of her time at Lake George. Raised on a Wisconsin farm, O’Keeffe felt a strong connection to the structures.

The museum’s “My New York” gallery focuses on the significance of both New York City and Lake George in O’Keeffe’s artistic and personal development.

Of the subjects O’Keeffe pursued at Lake George during the 1920s – her most prolific decade – the barns around the Stieglitz property connect her directly both to his family and other American modernists. Barns conveyed a sense of a rural, regional identity linking modernism to an idealized agrarian past. They also served as a counterpoint to industrialization.

Funds for the painting came from the 2015 sale of O’Keeffe’s “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1” (1932) for $44.4 million in 2015, the most ever paid for a work by a female artist.