A dazzling inflorescence, made up of conspicuous scarlet floral bracts edged in yellow and green, bundles a thick green stem. It appears delicate, yet bold, as it springs from its towering dark green leathery leaf and pierces the fluffy white clouds. Our eyes revel in the dominant position of the flower facing the cyan sea. The vibrant close-up of the blazing flower evokes the tropical grandeur of the Hawaiian Islands.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii Ginger Crab Claw (1939) is expected to bring in between $ 4 and $ 6 million when it is auction for the first time at Phillips on November 17th. A watershed moment for O’Keeffe in the international market, Phillips anticipates a keen interest in Asia, particularly mainland China.
The most significant piece O’Keeffe created in Hawaii to hit the block in three decades will be donated to the Phillips Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art. The coveted painting comes from the collection of Sharon Twigg-Smith, who, along with her late husband, businessman and philanthropist Thurston Twigg-Smith, was an enthusiastic and celebrated collector and patron of modern and contemporary art. Thurston Twigg-Smith transformed the Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, from a corporate gallery to a public museum, now known as the Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House. The couple have supported institutions such as the Hawaii Theater Center, the Historic Hawaii Foundation, and the Yale University Art Gallery.
O’Keeffe “really immersed herself in the landscape there and kind of permeated all of the natural world, as she always does when she seeks inspiration in her work”, Elizabeth Goldberg, specialist American art international principal and vice president, Americas, at Phillips, said in a telephone interview. “This corpus is very rare.”
When New York-based advertising firm NW Ayer & Son commissioned O’Keeffe to create a campaign for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, the precursor to what is now Dole Food Company, executives invited her on a nine-week tropical trip every fees paid and allowed her to choose the subject of the ad. O’Keeffe has created vivid works inspired by flora such as hibiscus, wild ginger, ornamental pink banana, panoramic ocean views and lush landscapes.
Of the 22 oil paintings O’Keeffe created in Hawaii, 14 are in museum collections, Goldberg said. “I feel like people are familiar with the photos from New Mexico, obviously. They know the photos of New York. But people really don’t know the Hawaii photos, and I think they’re kind of a revelation, ”she said.
“They rarely hit the market. This image, in particular, is of such extraordinary quality, ”said Goldberg. “She was an incredibly spirited and adventurous traveler. I think it’s so interesting that she went to New Mexico in 1929, she went to Hawaii in 1939, and then in 1959 she went to Asia. She constantly sees the world in her own way, and her art truly reflects that. In this Hawaiian series, you see her find that inspiration, using her kind of distinctive visual language. In this very lush tropical way, she was inspired by the landscape that surrounds her in Hawaii.
Best known for his depictions of New Mexico, O’Keeffe was a highly regarded artist who had been reluctant to accept such commissions. The print advertisement promoting Dole pineapple juice without a pineapple image was very popular, becoming a valuable image that is frequently reproduced from the originals shown in Vogue and the Saturday night message.
“They were looking for two images to use as advertisements, and the first image that was chosen and that she presented to them was this image, the crab claw, and the other image that she presented to them was of a papaya, ”Goldberg said.
The company reportedly sent a pineapple to O’Keeffe’s New York studio after returning from the trip, and it only painted one known image of the fruit, Pineapple bud (1939). Rather than representing the ripe fruit, she painted a close-up of the bud.
O’Keeffe’s Hawaiian works were first exhibited in 1940 at An American Place, the New York gallery owned by her husband, photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, and continue to impress viewers.
“The year after they were painted, she stands in front of this picture with a smile on her face that says, ‘This is as close to a pineapple as someone is going to paint. “It’s so, I think, emblematic of his approach, his unique approach, his singular approach to his art and his life,” Goldberg said. “This image is incredibly complex in its composition.… You kind of look at it. through the crab claw to the sky. To me it kinda reminds me of how she looks through the bones to the sky in New Mexico. And yet you have the ocean, which is quite rare, this beautiful body of water that has a bit of a surreal quality, which I imagine having Hawaii, just for its beauty and color …. The tropical feel with which it imbues these images is completely new and completely fresh.
In 2014, O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed / White Flower No.1 (1932) sold for $ 44.4 million at Sotheby’s, breaking the previous record for the most expensive work of art ever sold by a woman artist. Goldberg, who was then President of American Art at Sotheby’s, played a key role in this historic sale, before joining Phillips in 2019. Goldberg now wants to expose O’Keeffe to a wider market.
Hawaii Ginger Crab Claw “Fits all collectors, whether you are a collector of traditional American art, a collector of modern art, or a collector of contemporary European art.” No matter where you are in the world, I think this photo will be interesting, ”said Goldberg.
The condition of the painting, as well as its provenance, are highlighted by unique details.
“She wrote it on the back, which is incredibly rare for O’Keeffe to sign, title and date his work. She would often sign with a star and an “OK” on the back, but seeing her actual signature on the back of the board is very, very unusual, ”Goldberg said. “I always think that female artists are underrated, and O’Keeffe definitely tops the list in terms of the most valuable artists, along with Frida Kahlo. It is interesting to think of these two strong female artists of the 20th century, sort of celebrities in their own right, painting without fear. They wanted to paint as they wanted to paint.