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O’Keeffe’s Series from 1918-20 show how she experimented with almost purely abstract, yet organic shapes. Only a few of these works of art were shown in her large exhibition at 291, and the series was never shown in its entirety.

According to one of the panels at the 2002 exhibition, Series is one of the most provocative and least known aspects of the art she had left in her collection at the time of her passing, when she proved to be one of America’s earliest and most astonishing abstract artists.

O’Keeffe: Series 1 – No. 2, 191

This painting is about 50 x 40 cm and seems to excude a mild but clear, electrical turquoise glow. Color is applied through soft movements with the brush and are dominated by orange and pink tones against its complementary color turquoise.

The flower stalk spirals upwards by its own force and diagonal, organic lines emphasize the feeling of growth. This stalk looks like an umbilical cord and the flower has a simple bell shape with three layers of petals. In the middle there is a small, but ripe seed in a stronger red/orange nuance.

It is not a botanical illustration of a flower; instead it has archetypical values and is a kind of universe in itself.

A Gaze Into The Microcosm

Artists and thinkers during the romantic period searched for the answer to the structure of the Universe through gazing into flowers. Steiner, and before him, Runge and Goethe, speculated whether plant life mirrored the mysteries of the Universe or not. “Urpflanze” (transl. archetypal plant) was a concept.

I have actually seen something looking like this flower once, and that was in a microscope on the Paleobotanics Institution, University of Stockholm. They have been able to discern one of the first known flowers, a microscopically small variety of a rose, more than 60 million years old.

O’Keeffe probably didn’t look into a microscope for her motif. However, this painting could be an example of the powers of the visionary force to see archetypical forms, which occasionally happen to be aligned with something that has actually materialized, in this case, a real Urpflanze.

Books

Urpflanze und Ornament: Pflanzenmorphologische Anregungen in der Kunsttheorie und Kunst von Goethe bis zum Jugendstil (Commentationes humanarum litterarum)

Urpflanze und Pflanzenreich

Video

The First Flower, PBS

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