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O'Keeffe, The Lawrence Tree

Georgia O'Keeffe, The Lawrence Tree, 1929, oil on canvas, 31 x 40 inches (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford) Painted in the summer of 1929 while visiting D.H. Lawrence at his Kiowa Ranch during O'Keeffe's first trip to New Mexico, the tree stands in front of the house. Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music playing) Steven: We're in the remarkable Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut and we're looking at Georgia O'Keeffe's The Lawrence Tree. It's really early O'Keeffe. It dates to 1929. Beth: It doesn't look like a tree at all. It looks almost like this organic octopus-like form, but when you just stop for a second and look at it, you can see that we're looking up at the branches of a tree, like we often do when we're lying on the grass and looking up at the sky. Steven: I mean, we always take over the artist's view in a sense, when we look at a painting. But because the view is so unusual here, in some ways, we really inhabit her eyes as she's looking up at that clear, night sky. Beth: There's something incredibly poignant about it. We become her or we see through her eyes at a very particular moment in a very particular view on a very particular night. I have a strong sense of the passage of time and the momentary and how human life is so brief, a whole set of things that happened because of this unusual point of view. Looking up through the tree at the night sky, the subject and the point of view come together. I almost feel the nighttime and this tree and the smell of the pine. Steven: Space and time are beautifully interwoven. Our eye travels up that trunk. We're lying just just below. O'Keeffe spoke about how there was a carpenter's bench just at the base of this tree, that she liked to lie on. This was painted on D.H. Lawrence's ranch during her first summer in New Mexico. There's something very particular about the way our eye travels up the tree and then past this wildlike form that are the needles of the pine and then beyond that, the sky which intrudes and just comes towards us and of course recedes infinitely in dome of that sky. The radical changes of scale, speak of both space and time, our minuteness and our rootedness in this much larger, celestial space. Beth: There is that pulling down and that sense of rootedness in the earth and at the same time that sublime suggestion of the infinite and the blue and the way that it Steven: Yes. Steven: Apparently, the artist felt that this painting could be hung in any direction, but the museum has hung it in a way that she seemed to have preferred. Beth: She instructed that the tree appear to be standing on its head. (piano music playing)