In 1926, the relationship with Stieglitz was in trouble. He had an affair, and Georgia’s tree, The Old Maple, looks humanlike, raging and almost scary; or as a big fallic shape indicating an uncontrollable, sexual passion.
O’Keeffe: The Old Maple, 1926
The tree looks as if it would be yelling and barking; not a nice figure to have to deal with. The year before, Georgia had painted a similar tree, but with a much more sensual appeal, in a romantic, pink palette.
Stieglitz actually liked to identify himself with trees on his property, and it could be that those trees are a visual barometer for Georgia’s emotional life in the relationship, as Peters suggests.
The Lawrence Tree
Some trees are even named after actual people:
There was a long weathered carpenter’s bench under the tall tree in front of the little old house that Lawrence had lived in there. I often lay on that bench looking up into the tree… past the trunk and up into the branches. It was particularly fine at night with the stars above the tree.
O’Keeffe: The Lawrence Tree, 1929
O’Keeffe painted this during a visit to D. H. Lawrence near Taos, New Mexico. (View it from any angle.) Her trees, leaves, even flowers and other motifs often contain this human and personal quality.
I wish people were all trees and I think I could enjoy them then.
O’Keeffe: White Birch Tree, 1925