Oil on canvas
36 1/8 x 30 1/8 in.
u.c. on canvas in white paint: Georgia O'Keeffe \ 1927
u.r. on stretcher in ink: Georgia O'Keeffe-1927-Red Cannas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
O’Keeffe began painting flowers in the mid-1920s as a continuation of her experiments with compositions that bordered on abstraction. Unveiled at the New York gallery run by her husband, the photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, these works were an immediate sensation.
In pictures such as Red Cannas, O’Keeffe devised a modernist style of close-up, tightly cropped, and vibrantly colored imagery that presented viewers with a radical new way of imagining and perceiving the natural world. Critics soon attempted to explain the significance of her floral imagery, including Stieglitz, who offered explicitly erotic interpretations that O’Keeffe opposed. She maintained that her paintings were best understood as expressions of her unwavering commitment to creative independence. “Before I put a brush to canvas,” she explained, “I question, ‘Is this mine? Is it all intrinsically of myself? Is it influenced by some idea or some photograph of an idea which I have acquired from some man?’”
—Text taken from the Carter Handbook (2023)
American Still LifeFebruary 14–August 16, 2015
Organized in celebration of a recent acquisition, American Still Life highlights the ability of 19th and 20th-century American artists to celebrate the ordinary through their paintings, whether trompe l’oeil masters or modernist photographers.
From Remington to O’Keeffe: The Carter’s Greatest HitsOctober 6, 2018–March 22, 2019
During the renovation, this exhibition features highlights from the permanent collection, including paintings, photographs, and sculptures, by some of America’s most renowned artists.
Oriented vertically in a thin, silver frame, 36 1/8 inches tall by 30 1/8 inches, this wide painting features a bright red, oversized canna against a mostly soft pink background. Starting in the center of the canvas, there is a downward folded, narrow petal, stretching diagonally from high left to lower right, roughly 9 inches long. Peeking from under this curled petal to the left, a short dash of yellow barely shows, which we assume to be the flower’s pistil. This dash seems to be one of the last details the artist added because the red under the thinly applied yellow paint stroke is visible.
The smaller, red petal in the center of the canvas hides the starting points of four bright and dark red, wide petals that extend out to the sides of the canvas. The petal extending to the top right corner is almond-shaped; the center of the petal is a darker red than the smooth, softer red of the outer edges. Just below that petal a smaller, lighter red petal, shaped like a backward “c,” floats there, not coming from the center of the canvas but entering from the right side and spanning roughly 19 inches down the side of the canvas, as if it were part of another nearby canna. Touching the bottom of that curled petal is a skinny, narrow petal that is part of the central flower. It reaches from the center of the painting down to the bottom of the canvas, and the tip extends beyond the surface of the canvas. The petal is highlighted with white which makes it appear to push out toward the viewer. The left side of this petal appears to be barely covering the largest petal of them all. The roundest and biggest petal takes up almost the entire left quarter of the painting. From the start of the center in the panel to the corner it extends to is approximately 20 inches long. A lighter red color highlights the area closest to the pistil. The bottom, smooth edge of the petal is the darkest red of the whole petal. Above and tucked under this largest petal is a similarly shaped one, but smaller. The top left edges of this petal are a lighter red and a shadow running down the center of the petal suggests that there might be a crease in it.
There are parts of another grouping of petals in the top left corner that peer out from the top left petal of the main flower. The edges of these petals are wavy, and the center petal is folded over toward the right side of the canvas. These three pieces are all the darkest reds in the whole painting. It’s not obvious if these are part of this flower or another one.
While the flower takes up about 85 percent of the canvas, there are gaps between petals that show a white and soft pink background. The top left and bottom right corners have the most background showing, with white at the outermost corners. Small areas along the perimeter of the canvas show little spots of white and pink triangles in between the red petals. In the middle right of the canvas, gaps between petals show more background that is the darkest pink of all the exposed areas.
The artist does not sign her name on the canvas.
Georgia O’Keeffe spent many years painting New Mexico’s landmarks, fruit still lifes, and magnified flowers. All of the objects she depicted held a very personal sensory experience for her and signified important associations with people and places. Red Cannas is one example of O’Keeffe’s boldly colored flowers celebrating some of the natural patterns found when visiting Lake George, New York, with her husband.