Georgia O’Keeffe, one of the most famous artists of the 20th century, sought refuge in Bermuda twice during a brief period in the 1930s when she was struggling with her mental health. The time O’Keeffe spent there played a pivotal role in establishing her visual aesthetic, and perhaps prompted her move to New Mexico, the state most closely associated with her career. may have been helpful.
Two drawings from that time have now returned to Bermuda and are housed in the collection of the Masterpiece Museum, one of which is currently on display during the island nation’s first Arts Month. (The museum hopes to acquire a third one soon.) Sarah Thom, the museum’s curatorial researcher, said scholars will explore how this period of transition affected her life and work. He said he is trying to find out.
According to correspondence, O’Keeffe decided to move to New Mexico while in Bermuda, but little is known about how exactly his time on the island motivated his move. Museum director Lisa Hunter told me during a recent visit that she was surprised at how little O’Keeffe’s biography says about life on the island.
“I think there are two things that are interesting about the aesthetic influence that her trip here had on her work. One is the connection between the work she made here and photography,” Tom said. “O’Keeffe’s first trip to Bermuda was with Marjorie Content, who was a photographer and took photographs during that trip. Although O’Keeffe was not working, Content’s photographs I was accompanying him to the shooting.”
According to the letter contained in Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letterscatalog of an exhibition held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1987. O’Keeffe was hospitalized in New York for depression from February to March 1933, and then recuperated in Bermuda until May of the same year. .
“Bermuda was really her first overseas experience. It was like going out on her own without her husband,” Hunter said. O’Keeffe had just been to Canada.
A year earlier, in early 1932, O’Keeffe had suffered a nervous breakdown, in the words of her husband, photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, due to a disagreement over a $1,500 commission from Radio City Music Hall. I was worried. Although she was admitted to a sanitarium, her symptoms did not improve, and in February 1933 she was admitted to Doctor’s Hospital for treatment of psychoneurosis.
Her depression was also explained as follows: Rebellion against a controlling husbandand scholars have pointed out that Stieglitz: Then I fell in love with a younger woman. Hunter said Stieglitz had never been to Bermuda, but he encouraged O’Keeffe and other friends to visit the island. The island was known as a place of “relaxation and rejuvenation”.
“She was going through a pretty serious mental health crisis,” Hunter said. “He invited her to come to her island. She first visited here in 1933, but as far as we know, she never picked up one of her pencils or paintbrushes. did.”
O’Keeffe did not record his first trip to Bermuda, but when he returned to the island nation in early March 1934, he sketched the flora during his trip. Her thoughts about the island are also recorded in her correspondence.
In a letter to poet and novelist Jean Toomer on a ship from New York to Bermuda, Ms. O’Keeffe wrote that during the voyage, she traveled deep into the ocean and “disappeared from everyone who seemed to be involved.” I’m glad to be away from everything.” my life. Still, she writes about her own “solitude” and that in her connections with people she felt “like a reed in the wind.”
The following month, O’Keeffe wrote to Rebecca Strand, wife of Bermudian photographer Paul Strand, explaining how her health had improved after “two months of sitting in the sun”. She said she enjoys “flowers and birds” and “all things pretty,” but two days later she plans to return to New York if she can get through.
“After that? I’m starting to think about New Mexico with vague interest,” O’Keefe wrote. “And I also want to keep the house. What an idea!” She ended up moving permanently to New Mexico in 1949 after Stieglitz’s death.
Hunter said O’Keefe’s move to New Mexico was motivated by feelings of claustrophobia in New York and the cost of living.In New Mexico, Hunter said O’Keefe may be left alone.—It’s a feeling she sought after her stay in Bermuda.
“In Bermuda, one thing that’s always true when a big name artist or celebrity comes to the island is there’s no fanfare,” Mr Hunter said. “She was here and she may have just been enjoying being out of sight.”
As for why O’Keeffe started painting again in Bermuda, Hunter said the artists were “infatuated with the light of Bermuda.” They were obsessed with the colors, the warmth and the sea here. I think it must have been a similar attraction for her. ”
O’Keeffe’s paintings of Bermuda, done in charcoal on paper even though she packed up paint for the trip, have similarities to the colorful landscapes she would paint in New Mexico, Hunter said. suggested. She compared the desert landscape to the ocean around Bermuda.
“If you look outside, it’s just nature. I think she was very inspired by nature because she has a lot of flat backgrounds like deserts and oceans,” Hunter said. “Nature continued to inspire her. She has to believe there was some connection.”
Hunter called the 14 works O’Keeffe created on the island “intimate works,” contracting the large-scale, colorful works for which the artist would later become known. The Masterworks Museum, founded by Bermudian photographer Tom Butterfield, featured these works alongside works by Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth in a 1987 exhibition. (1994 exhibition “O’Keeffe: Rest in BermudaThe exhibition at the Bermuda National Gallery featured 11 of the 14 works on display. )
Hunter said Masterworks has since made an “extraordinary” effort to acquire two of O’Keeffe’s drawings and hopes to one day return all 14 to the island.
“The whole idea was to repatriate these works after the exhibition closed,” Hunter said. “There was a small group of us, including our founder Tom, who said, ‘These pieces should be made in Bermuda.'”
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