O'Keeffe Museum acquires rare painting

"The Barns," Lake George," a rarely seen abstract work by Georgia O'Keefe that she painted in 1926.

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum has acquired a rarely seen 1926 painting by O’Keeffe that museum officials hope will further an effort to fill gaps in the collection and tell a more complete story of the artist’s personal and artistic development.

The Barns, Lake George, which has been shown publicly only once in the last 50 years, portrays rustic barns that overlooked the shores of Lake George, N.Y., where O’Keeffe and her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, created a rural retreat. The painting, from the Stieglitz family property at Lake George, has been held in private collections since 1946. The museum bought it at Christie’s Auction House in New York City for more than $3.3 million.

The museum made the acquisition with funds from the November 2014 sale of several paintings in its collection, including the iconic Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, which brought in $44.4 million — the highest auction price in the world for any piece by a female painter.

O’Keeffe Museum curator Carolyn Kastner said the museum sold Jimson Weed so it could buy more O’Keeffe paintings and diversify its collection.

The new painting is example of the artist’s lesser-known interests in abstract composition. “It comes as a surprise to many people that she painted many things other than flowers,” Kastner said.

The artist spent the majority of her life in Northern New Mexico, finding inspiration for much of her work from the landscape here. The museum opened in Santa Fe in 1997 to tell that story, and it does this soundly, Kastner said. But there are holes in the story of O’Keeffe that the museum hopes to tell through other paintings it hopes to buy, she said.

Kastner and a spokesperson for the museum declined to provide details about other paintings the museum is seeking.

Museum staff said in a statement Tuesday that The Barns, Lake George is among fewer than 10 works that O’Keeffe produced of the barns at Lake George, in the southeastern base of the Adirondack Mountains.

The painting will go on view in coming months, said the museum’s director, Robert A. Kret.

He said, “The Barns, Lake George, 1926, fills a notable gap in our collection and will allow us to significantly enhance our ‘My New Yorks’ gallery,” which focuses on the significance of two places in New York State — New York City and Lake George — in O’Keeffe’s development. The painting will take its place alongside images of the city and the painting retreat at Lake George.

O’Keeffe Museum Curatorial Affairs Director Cody Hartley said in the statement that the painting advances the museum’s goal of representing the “full breadth of Georgia O’Keeffe’s artistic accomplishments.”

He said the museum is actively building its collection of the artist’s work as well as photography of and about her.

Other recent additions to the museum include photos by Myron Wood, Alan Ross and Basil Langton, and a collection of more than 100 other photos by artists such as Stieglitz, Ansel Adams and Laura Gilpin.

Dan Schwartz can be reached at 505-428-7626 or dschwartz@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @NMDanSchwartz.

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