Property from the Estate of Andrew C. Bayle
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

Squash Blossom

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
Squash Blossom
oil on board
18 x 13½ in. (45.7 x 34.3 cm.)
Painted in 1925.
The artist.
Peter Bayle, New York, gift from the above, 1946.
By descent to the present owner, 1963.
B.B. Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. one, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, p. 276, no. 498, illustrated.
B.B. Lynes and R. Bowman, O'Keeffe's O'Keeffes: The Artist's Collection, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2001, p. 35.
Boston, Massachusetts, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum, 1979, on loan.



In 1939 Georgia O'Keeffe wrote, "A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower--the idea of flowers. You put out your hand to touch the flower--lean forward to smell it--maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking--or give it to someone to please them. Still--in a way--nobody sees a flower--really--it is so small--we haven't time--and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time. If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small. So I said to myself--I'll paint what I see--what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it--" (as quoted in N. Callaway, ed., Georgia O'Keeffe: One Hundred Flowers, New York, 1989, n.p.)

Georgia O'Keeffe's magnified images of flowers became her best known and most celebrated paintings. The years she dedicated to the exploration and development of floral themes yielded some of the most important works of her oeuvre and enabled O'Keeffe to synthesize her interest in the depiction of natural objects and her Modernist impulses in the use of color and form. In Squash Blossom, O'Keeffe creates a perfect balance of form and color, emphasizing the organic harmonies of the flowers and of nature. "Her celebration of flowers was an expression of her feeling for the world around her, a reminder, bold and insistent, of a force besides that of speed and noise and machinery. Here was something else: ravishingly lovely, silent, breathtaking, and surprising." (R. Robinson, Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life, New York, 1989, p. 277)

O'Keeffe began painting flower pictures in 1918 and they were shown for the first time by Alfred Stieglitz in 1923. By 1924, she was painting large-scale flower paintings, which were exhibited the following year at Anderson Galleries. When these works were shown, they caused a sensation, receiving both positive and negative reviews. Even Stieglitz's reaction when he first saw Petunia No. 2 (1924, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico) in her studio was, "Well, Georgia, I don't know how you are going to get away with anything like that--you aren't planning to show it, are you?" Nicholas Callaway writes, "Many found [the flower paintings] to be unabashedly sensual, in some cases overtly erotic. Others perceived them as spiritually chaste...Added to the shock of their...outrageous color and scandalous (or sacred) shapes was the fact that these paintings had been created by a woman at a time when the art world was almost exclusively male...[The flower paintings] were extraordinarily controversial and sought-after, and made their maker a celebrity. It was the flowers that begat the O'Keeffe legend in the heady climate of the 1920s." (Georgia O'Keeffe: One Hundred Flowers, n.p.)

In 1925 O'Keeffe painted three works of squash blossoms: the present painting, the following lot and one in the collection of Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts. This working method was typical of the artist, as she often created series of works depicting a single theme. She said: "I work with an idea for a long time. It's like getting acquainted with a person, and I don't get acquainted easily...Sometimes I start in a very realistic fashion, and as I go on from one painting to another of the same thing, it becomes simplified till it can be nothing but abstract." Each image in the series of squash blossoms portrays the flower isolated from its natural environment and painted in an aerial view.

Squash Blossom is at once an objective interpretation of blossoms as well as a meditation on form and color. It is this near abstraction that evokes the mystical and spiritual qualities, which O'Keeffe associated with her flowers and which are the source of their strength. Whereas many Modernists such as Charles Sheeler and John Marin turned to the industrial sector for guidance and inspiration in subject matter, O'Keeffe embraced the natural world. "O'Keeffe's work, a counter-response to technology, was soft, voluptuous and intimate. Full of rapturous colors and yielding surfaces, it furnishes a sense of astonishing discovery...Though the work is explicitly feminine, it is convincingly and triumphantly powerful, a combination that had not before existed."(Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life, p. 278)

The present work is an image of an efflorescent flower. The petals and leaves curl and twist over each other, transforming the bloomed flower into rhapsodic forms. The curves of the petals and leaves are transformed into expanses of delicately modulated color. O'Keeffe also brilliantly uses color to heighten the construction of the composition. In Squash Blossom, she balances the vibrant orange and yellow colors of the flower by setting it against a flat, ambiguous background which modulates from peach to dark crimson. This removes all sense of distance and space from the composition. She magnifies the flower forcing the leaves and petals to the edges of the canvas and cropping them, simplifying the flower into forms and patterns. The magnified and cropped flowers, vibrant colors and flattened background add to the heightened reality of the blossoms which are transformed by the artist from a commonplace flower into something more insistent and even profound.

Although Squash Blossom is smaller than O'Keeffe's large-scale canvases of flowers, its size is typical of her earliest floral paintings. On a more intimate scale, the smaller works, through the ingenious manipulation of color, form and composition, carry as powerful a visual impact as the larger floral paintings. By magnifying a small, traditionally feminine subject, O'Keeffe creates a bold abstraction. Much has been written about O'Keeffe's relationship with Stieglitz and the influence each had on the other's work and it is likely that photography--both Stieglitz's and others--had some impact on her paintings. O'Keeffe employed the photographic techniques of the detailed close-up and magnified image, as well as of the cropped edges of the picture plane.

O'Keeffe applied Modernist aesthetics to natural forms as a way of drawing the viewer's attention to their often unappreciated beauty. It is one of her lasting achievements that she could at once convey in a flower the intimate and the monumental, and to transform one of nature's most delicate objects into a powerful artistic statement.

Squash Blossom and the succeeding lot, Squash Blossom No. II, were gifts from the artist to the father of the present owner. Peter Bayle owned Costamp Metal Company in New York and created frames for the artist. The present lot is accompanied by copies of letters from O'Keeffe to Bayle including orders for frames, references to bills as well as holiday and greeting cards.

The present work retains an oil sketch of Lake George, New York, on the reverse.