Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), Grey Cross with Blue, 1929; oil on canvas, 36 x 24 in.; The Albuquerque Museum, Museum Purchase 1983 and 1985 General Obligation Bonds; Albuquerque Museum Foundation; Ovenwest Corporation; Frederick R. Weisman Foundation
More than any artist who has lived in New Mexico, O’Keeffe has defined the Southwest for an international and popular audience. She also represents women who built independent and creative lives for themselves, like Mabel Dodge Luhan, who influenced her in this respect.
The dramatic painting, Grey Cross with Blue, was completed during her first visit to New Mexico in 1929 as Mabel’s guest. The looming silhouette of the weathered, six-foot wooden Penitente cross behind Mabel’s home, is seen against a spiritual, blue sky and a sliver of the Taos Mountain, where the pueblo’s sacred Blue Lake feeds the river that is their source of water and origin stories. The composition conveys the photographic framing and bare essentials so fundamental to her aesthetic, as well as her evocative primary palette. Three Shells, painted eight years later, suggests sensual experiences, much as her well-acclaimed flower paintings have symbolized.