Image: Georgia O’Keeffe, American, 1887–1986. Anything, 1916. Oil on board, 20 x 15 3/4 in (50.8 x 40.0 cm). Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, 2006.05.029. © 2018 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia presents Unexpected O'Keeffe: The Virginia Watercolors and Later Paintings, on view Oct. 19, 2018-Jan. 27, 2019. This rare exhibition explores Georgia O’Keeffe’s watercolor studies produced during her time at the University of Virginia (UVA) in the summers from 1912 to 1916, and will include several key sketches and paintings as well as other works demonstrating her developing style. This is the first time the watercolors have been on view outside the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“It is an honor and a thrill to bring Georgia O’Keeffe’s works created in and around the University of Virginia back to UVA for the first time since they were produced,” said Matthew McLendon, J. Sanford Miller Family Director at The Fralin. “Visitors will be able to walk out of the gallery and find the same points-of-view O’Keeffe used; they can experience the same qualities of light.”
Unexpected O'Keeffe: The Virginia Watercolors and Later Paintings emphasizes an understudied period of the artist’s development. While in Charlottesville, O’Keeffe displayed an early attraction to modernism and abstraction, using her surroundings on the Grounds of UVA to investigate simplified and refined compositions. During her time at UVA, O’Keeffe showed a dramatic shift to the ideas of modernism. In 1912 she took a summer course taught by Alon Bement who introduced her to the revolutionary ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow, his colleague. Dow encouraged imagination and self-expression versus literal interpretation.
“Among the first college trained artists of her generation, O’Keeffe spent five total summers at UVA starting as a student (1912) and then returning as an instructor (1913-1916). It was a time of personal awakening that set her on a new path of abstraction and practice of drawing leading to her own radical pictorial invention,” said Elizabeth Hutton Turner, professor of modern art at the University of Virginia. “Here she was first introduced to exercises equating line and vision in Arthur Wesley Dow’s ‘Book of Composition.’ O’Keeffe’s method of dividing and filling compositional space begun in Charlottesville forms the basis for the mature works that many already know and admire. What people will be surprised to learn is how it all began in Charlottesville.”
The exhibition is a catalyst for new scholarship on this period in O’Keeffe’s life through a graduate seminar led by Turner. “The university museum at its foundation is a laboratory for student learning and engagement,” said McLendon.
Unexpected O'Keeffe: The Virginia Watercolors and Later Paintings consists of works on loan from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, The Phillips Collection, and the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg.
The primary research for this exhibition was conducted by Johnathan Chance, Lucia Colombari, Lauren McQuistion, and Meaghan Walsh under the direction of Professor Elizabeth Hutton Turner within the McIntire Department of Art, and Matthew McLendon, J. Sanford Miller Family Director. The students have been involved in every aspect of curating the exhibition and have shaped its narrative.