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“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

History

Cottonwood Tree (Near Abiquiu), New Mexico (1943) by celebrated American artist Georgia O’Keeffe is exemplary of the airer, more naturalistic style that the desert inspired in her. O’Keeffe had great affinity for the distinctive beauty of the Southwest, and made her home there among the spindly trees, dramatic vistas, and bleached animal skulls that she so frequently painted. O’Keeffe took up residence at Ghost Ranch, a dude ranch twelve miles outside of the village of Abiquiú in northern New Mexico and painted this cottonwood tree around there. The softer style befitting this subject is a departure from her bold architectural landscapes and jewel-toned flowers.

The cottonwood tree is abstracted into soft patches of verdant greens through which more delineated branches are seen, spiraling in space against pockets of blue sky. The modeling of the trunk and delicate energy in the leaves carry forward past experimentations with the regional trees of the Northeast that had captivated O’Keeffe years earlier: maples, chestnuts, cedars, and poplars, among others. Two dramatic canvases from 1924, Autumn Trees, The Maple and The Chestnut Grey, are early instances of lyrical and resolute centrality, respectively. As seen in these early tree paintings, O’Keeffe exaggerated the sensibility of her subject with color and form.

More
  • O'Keeffe40147_history1
    Georgia O’Keeffe painting a similar subject at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, photograph by Ansel Adams
  • O'Keeffe40147_history2
    Georgia O’Keeffe, 1953, at her desk in her Abiquiu studio with one of her smaller cottonwood paintings, photograph by Laura Gilpin
  • O'Keeffe40147_history3
    Dead Cottonwood Tree (1943) at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • O'Keeffe40147_history4
    Autumn Trees, The Maple (1924)
  • O'Keeffe40147_history5
    The Chestnut Grey (1924)
“A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

MARKET INSIGHTS

  • Kahlo40147_AMRgraph
  • The graph by Art Market Research shows that since 1976, paintings by O’Keeffe have increased at an 11.4% annual rate of return.

  • Since the Record setting sale in 2014 (Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, sold for over $44.4 million), the Georgia O’Keeffe market has seen an ever-increasing demand for signature-style oil paintings.  

  • A small-scale 12 x 10-inch flower painting, Pink Spotted Lily (1936), sold recently in November 2021 for over $6.8 million.

  • In addition to her celebrated flowers, New Mexico area landscapes, nature subjects, and Lake George scenes achieve the strongest results for O’Keeffe at auction.

Top Results at Auction

“Jimson weed/ White flower no. 1” (1932), oil on canvas, 48 x 40 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 20 November 2014 for $44,405,000 USD
“Jimson weed/ White flower no. 1” (1932), oil on canvas, 48 x 40 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 20 November 2014 for $44,405,000 USD
“A Street” (1926), oil on canvas, 48 x 30 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 November 2018 for $13,285,500 USD
“A Street” (1926), oil on canvas, 48 x 30 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 November 2018 for $13,285,500 USD
“Lake George Reflection” (circa 1921-1922), oil on canvas, 58 x 34 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 19 May 2016 for $12,933,000 USD
“Lake George Reflection” (circa 1921-1922), oil on canvas, 58 x 34 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 19 May 2016 for $12,933,000 USD
“Lake George With White Birch” (1921), oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 21 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 May 2018 for $11,292,000 USD
“Lake George With White Birch” (1921), oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 21 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 May 2018 for $11,292,000 USD

Comparable Paintings Sold at Auction

“Lake George With White Birch” (1921), oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 21 in. (64.7 x 54 cm). Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 May 2018 for $11,292,000 USD
“Lake George With White Birch” (1921), oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 21 in. (64.7 x 54 cm). Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 May 2018 for $11,292,000 USD
  • This early canvas with similar subject matter, though smaller-scale, sold for over $11.2 million in 2018, the third-highest auction price for O’Keeffe
  • Nature subjects, particularly trees, were a frequent focus of O’Keeffe
“Near Abiquiu, New Mexico” (1931), oil on canvas, 16 x 36 in. (40.6 x 91.4 cm). Sold at Christie’s New York: 09 May 2018 for $8,412,500 USD
“Near Abiquiu, New Mexico” (1931), oil on canvas, 16 x 36 in. (40.6 x 91.4 cm). Sold at Christie’s New York: 09 May 2018 for $8,412,500 USD
  • A smaller work than Cottonwood Tree (Near Abiquiu), New Mexico
  • An earlier landscape from the same area in New Mexico, this piece sold for over $8.4 million in 2018
“The Red Maple at Lake George” (1926), oil on canvas, 36 x 30 in. (91.4 x 76.2 cm). Sold at Christie’s New York: 20 November 2018 for $8,187,500 USD
“The Red Maple at Lake George” (1926), oil on canvas, 36 x 30 in. (91.4 x 76.2 cm). Sold at Christie’s New York: 20 November 2018 for $8,187,500 USD
  • This O’Keeffe nature subject of the same size sold in 2018 for over $8.18 million
  • Earlier example from 1926
“Nature Forms – Gaspé” (1931), oil on canvas, 10.1 x 24 in. (25.7 x 61 cm). Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 5 March 2020 for $6,870,200 USD
“Nature Forms – Gaspé” (1931), oil on canvas, 10.1 x 24 in. (25.7 x 61 cm). Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 5 March 2020 for $6,870,200 USD
  • Small-scale, abstract nature subject
  • Sold recently for over $6.87 million
“Pink Spotted Lily” (1936), oil on canvas, 12 x 10 in. (30.5 x 25.4 cm). Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 16 November 2021 for $6,813,300 USD
“Pink Spotted Lily” (1936), oil on canvas, 12 x 10 in. (30.5 x 25.4 cm). Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 16 November 2021 for $6,813,300 USD
  • This small, 12 x 10-inch painting sold for over $6.8 million in November
  • A strong result for an intimately scaled piece, an indication of the demand for O’Keeffe paintings with signature subject matter

Paintings in Museum Collections

“Dead Cottonwood Tree” (1943), oil on canvas, 36 x 30 in., The Santa Barbara Museum of Art
“Dead Cottonwood Tree” (1943), oil on canvas, 36 x 30 in., The Santa Barbara Museum of Art
“Cottonwood III” (1944), oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in., The Butler Institute of American Art
“Cottonwood III” (1944), oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in., The Butler Institute of American Art
“Spring Tree No. 1” (1945), oil on canvas, 30 x 36 in., The New Mexico Museum of Art
“Spring Tree No. 1” (1945), oil on canvas, 30 x 36 in., The New Mexico Museum of Art
“Dark Tree Trunks” (1946), oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in., The Brooklyn Museum of Art
“Dark Tree Trunks” (1946), oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in., The Brooklyn Museum of Art
“Filling a space in a beautiful way – that is what art means to me.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

Image Gallery

Additional Resources

Take a video tour of O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, New Mexico, presented by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe
Watch “Houses of My Own” by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to learn more about the inspirational Abiquiu landscape and its cottonwood trees
Explore more of O’Keeffe’s cottonwood series in the collection of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

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