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Lovechild: Stieglitz, O'Keeffe, and the Birth of American Modernism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2009

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During the 1910s, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz developed the ambition to create a modern American art and gathered a circle of artists and writers around him who were committed to his spiritual, nature-centered aesthetic. This group of American Moderns is now known as the second Stieglitz circle. A review of the cultural production of this group reveals that concepts of race played a central role in their construction of American modernism. This is especially evident in the discourse about artist Georgia O'Keeffe, who served as the symbol of the aspirations of this circle. Writing under the pseudonym, Search-Light, the writer Waldo Frank made the following observation about the work of O'Keeffe:

Arabesques of branch, form-fugues of fruit and leaf, aspirant trees, shouting skyscrapers of the city — she resolves them all into a sort of whiteness: she soothes the delirious colors of the world into a peaceful whiteness.

As indicated by the title of Frank's essay, “Georgia O'Keeffe: White Paint and Good Order,” the circle felt that O'Keeffe's arrangement of colors, the literal pigments that she used to make her paintings, achieved a harmonious pattern that represented the ideal world they imagined. The use of whiteness to describe their desired configuration of the world was even more apparent in an assessment of O'Keeffe's paintings by cultural critic Paul Rosenfeld:

A white radiance is in all the bright paint felt by this girl… O'Keeffe makes us feel dazzling white in her shrillest scarlet and her heavenliest blue … This art is, a little, a prayer that the indifferent and envious world, always prepared to regard self-respect as an insult to its own frustrate and crushed emotions, may be kept from defiling and wrecking the white glowing place.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2005

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