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American Art: Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887–1986), Still Life: Flowering Branches in a Mason Jar, 1904, watercolor and graphite on paper mounted on wood pulp board, 20 ¼ x 14 1/8 in., gift of Hermine Sauthoff Davidson, 1981.29

Georgia O’Keeffe is best known for her vibrant, modernist paintings of New Mexico and enlarged flowers. However, this quiet but beautiful still life of flowering fruit branches is from very early in her artistic career.

O’Keeffe was born and raised in Sun Prairie and after her family moved to Virginia, she returned to visit her aunts in Madison during the summer. According to the donor, O’Keeffe gave this watercolor to the donor’s father, who worked at the local Moseley’s bookstore (formerly located on Mifflin Street) and displayed some of O’Keeffe’s paintings for sale.

Careful observers may notice that the signature on the front of the watercolor spells O’Keeffe’s name incorrectly. When the Chazen (formerly the Elvehjem Museum of Art) acquired the watercolor in 1981, O’Keeffe confirmed that she painted it but suggested that perhaps it was an early student work that was signed by a teacher, or perhaps someone in the bookstore or donor’s family signed it to record the artist.

—Janine Yorimoto Boldt, Associate Curator of American Art