Ida O'Keeffe: Escaping the Shadows

By Peggy Roalf   Monday July 9, 2018

This fall, the Dallas Museum of Art will present the first solo museum exhibition of works by Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe and the most comprehensive survey of the artist’s work to date. Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow will bring together approximately 40 paintings, watercolors, prints, and drawings for the first time, including six of the artist’s seven lighthouse paintings, whose previously unknown locations were revealed during exhibition research. 

Ida O’Keeffe began her career as a gynecological nurse before turning to painting in her early thirties. She received an MFA from Columbia University Teacher’s College in 1932, and had a solo exhibition in New York five years later. However, her paintings failed to generate a substantial income, and she became financially reliant on her more successful sibling. Unlike Georgia, who had the early support and promotional expertise of her husband, the photographer and galleries Alfred Stieglitz, Ida struggled to keep one foot in the art world of New York while teaching on short-term contracts at various colleges along the Eastern seaboard, the South, and the Midwest during the Great Depression of the 1930s.


Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe, Creation (date unknown); courtesy Dallas Museum of Art.

“There was a bit of sibling rivalry,” says Sue Canterbury, associate curator of American art at the Dallas Museum of Art, who is organizing an exhibition that aims to give Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe (1889–1961) the credit she deserves as a significant artist in her own right. In Georgia’s opinion, “There was only room for one painter in the family,” Canterbury says. In addition, relations between the sisters became strained, thanks in part to Stieglitz’s roving eye. Canterbury says that there are some “racy letters” written by Stieglitz to Ida in the late 1920s. She occasionally posed for him, and several of the photographs are included in the exhibitio.


Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe, Star Gazing in Texas (1938); courtesy Dallas Museum of Art.

The exhibition begins with O’Keeffe’s paintings of the late 1920s and early 30s, which appeared in her first exhibitions in gallery shows in Wisconsin and New York, most notably showcased through six of the seven documented lighthouse paintings she created and exhibited in 1933.

By the late 1930s, O’Keeffe’s work took another great shift toward a regionalist look that, although more subdued and lyrical, is also undergirded by the same structural principles from earlier in the decade.  Throughout, Ida was also a printmaker who used an electric iron as her printing press to create monotypes, several of which are included in the exhibition together with a selection of etchings and drypoints. 

The sisters fell out in later life, and when she died in 1961 at the age of 71, Georgia described Ida’s life as “wasted.” Her paintings and prints were sold off haphazardly after her death, and no great record of her output remains. Nevertheless, the interest in the younger O’Keeffe’s work has grown over recent years, and Canterbury hopes to flesh out her biography and the museum’s collection of her works.

Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow opens November 18thand runs through February 24, 2019 at the Dallas Museum of Art. Info




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