Reynolda House Museum of American Art announces promised gifts by Georgia O’Keeffe and Romare Bearden
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Feb. 9, 2021) — Reynolda’s founding director, Barbara Babcock Millhouse, has generously promised a gift of three works of art to Reynolda House Museum of American Art— Georgia O’Keeffe’s Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills and Romare Bearden’s Alto Composite and Moonlight Express. Reynolda House has committed to improving the way its collection reflects the community by diversifying its offerings through works created by women and artists of color. The museum is soliciting gifts and creating a designated fund for new acquisitions, recognizing that the collection could become a more accurate mirror of the nation’s past and a broader and deeper celebration of its diversity. This initiative honors the collecting legacy of Barbara Millhouse, which has been characterized by a high degree of selectivity and a bold embrace of diverse perspectives in American art.
O’Keeffe, one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, is renowned for her contribution to modern art. Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills, 1937, is one of the artist’s iconic New Mexico landscapes. In 1934, O’Keeffe began staying at Ghost Ranch, a dude ranch on the eastern edge of the Jimenez mountain range of New Mexico, buying a home there in 1940. The intensely colorful geological stratification of the cliffs provided endless fascination. She said New Mexico was “a painter’s country.” At Ghost Ranch, she turned to reds, pinks, and purples to paint hills and mountains, and pinks and yellows to accurately depict the stony cliffs visible from her house. This chalky palette is contrasted in the foreground by the desiccated cedar tree, which is more sharply defined, stretching to three edges of the canvas in marked counterpoint to its particolored surroundings.
Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills will be on view at the Museum July 23-Nov. 28 as part of the two-room gallery exhibition The O’Keeffe Circle: Artist as Gallerist and Collector. Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills will join the Museum’s 1922 drawing by the artist, Pool in the Woods, Lake George.
Millhouse has also promised the gift of two collages by the celebrated African American artist Romare Bearden. In Alto Composite, 1974, the artist conveyed his deep love for jazz and blues. Using highly saturated colored paper, Bearden created a stylized, Cubist-inspired saxophone player. Unlike other collages in his 1974 Of the Blues series, which are populated with multiple figures playing music and dancing, Alto Composite includes just one musician, monumentalized against a multi-hued background. The high contrast of colors creates a sense of energy and dynamism that reflects the music that inspired the artist.
Bearden’s Moonlight Express, 1978, demonstrates the way the artist, over and over again in his work, turned to a complex set of symbols. They included masks, large hands, trains, suns and moons, “conjur” or medicine women, music and musicians, and animals of all kinds. Moonlight Express features several of these motifs. At left, the artist’s iconic train carried African Americans from their native South to new lives in the North, and sometimes back south again. In a dark forest, white birds spread their wings, which glow in the light of a full moon. And, in the lower left, Bearden has included the figure of a woman. Her nudity and her presence in the forest mark her clearly as a conjur woman, a kind of voodoo priestess who lends a note of mystery to the scene.
Both collages by Bearden will be on view in the spring of 2022 in an exhibition exploring collage as a medium.
As the Museum’s founding president, Millhouse hopes to prompt other collectors and donors to make additional gifts to further the museum’s declared initiative to diversify its fine art collection. “When the staff voiced the desire to more fully reflect racial and gender diversity in the collection, I was pleased to offer three works that I have long lived with. Much of the most interesting art of the past few decades has been made by African American artists.”
About the painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, Millhouse recalled, “I purchased Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills in 1977. At that time, the dominant mode of art was gritty, urban, often political. Performance art and Photorealism were popular. You rarely if ever saw paintings in bright and cheerful colors such as those used by O’Keeffe in the 1930s. I wanted to see if a painting in those colors–so contrary to the times–could hold my interest, and I’ve lived with the painting ever since, rising each morning to its vibrancy on the wall of my bedroom.”
Millhouse met O’Keeffe following the purchase of Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills. Millhouse recalls, “Of course, it had been many decades since she created these works. As ever, she was direct, no nonsense, and amusing. When I showed her a slide of Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills, she looked across the table and asked, ‘How much did you pay for that?’”
Hours and Admission
Reynolda House, located at 2250 Reynolda Rd., will be open to visitors at reduced capacity Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m from Feb. 19 onward.
The museum is closed through Feb. 18.
Museum members, children 18 and under, students, military personnel, employees of Wake Forest University and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with valid ID receive free admission to the museum. Passes to Reynolda House in English and Spanish are available to check out from every branch of the Forsyth County Public Library free of charge.
Above images, top to bottom: Georgia O’Keeffe, Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills, 1937, Promised Gift of Barbara B. Millhouse. © 2021 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Romare Bearden, Alto Composite, 1974, Promised Gift of Barbara B. Millhouse. © 2021 Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Romare Bearden, Moonlight Express, 1978, Promised Gift of Barbara B. Millhouse. © 2021 Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
About Georgia O’ Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is one of the most famous and recognized American artists of the twentieth century. She was photographed throughout her life, most memorably by her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and friends such as Ansel Adams, and her face has become as recognizable as her paintings. Her homes in New Mexico attract a steady stream of cultural tourists who want to experience the Southwest that O’Keeffe painted from 1929 until her death in 1986. She had five retrospectives, beginning in 1943 at the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1960 at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts; in 1966 at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the University of New Mexico Fine Art Museum in Albuquerque; in 1970 at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the San Francisco Art Museum; and posthumously in the centennial year of her birth 1987 at the National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Georgia Totto O’Keeffe was born in 1887 near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, where she lived until the O’Keeffe family moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1902. She attended and graduated from Chatham Episcopal Institute (Chatham Hall) in 1905. O’Keeffe then enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905-6 where she took life drawing with John Vanderpoel, author of The Human Figure, a famous anatomy textbook first published in 1907. Bram Dijkstra says that Vanderpoel “insisted that his students must learn to let the lines of the body express the essential but largely intangible correspondence between our emotions and the shapes of nature” (Dijkstra, Bram, Georgia O’Keeffe and the Eros of Place. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998, p. 57). O’Keeffe chose to continue her art studies in 1907- 08 at the Art Students League, New York City. She was a student of William Merritt Chase, and, although she was not interested in painting the still lifes or impressionist landscapes that were his specialty, she did appreciate his virtuosic brushwork and his love of color.
In 1911, O’Keeffe returned to Virginia to be a substitute teacher at Chatham Hall and to help her family, now living in Charlottesville. O’Keeffe attended a 1912 summer session drawing class at the University of Virginia, taught by Alon Bement whose teaching was closely based on that of Arthur Wesley Dow. Dow’s highly influential book, Composition, was first published in 1899, and by 1913 was already in its seventh edition. As head of the Art Education Department at Columbia Teachers College, Dow was widely influential. In the words of art historian Kathleen Pyne, “Dow’s design process emphasizes the framing of a motif—its placement on the surface and its relation to the whole space—and the study of notan, or the relation between light and dark tonalities. . . Based on the lessons of the Japanese print, Dow’s illustrations taught the Photo-Secessionists as well as O’Keeffe’s generation of modernists how to pull out the frame vertically or horizontally and arrange the motif on the surface for surprisingly intimate effects.” (Pyne, Kathleen. Modernism and the Feminine Voice: O’Keeffe and the Women of the Stieglitz Circle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007: 245). In 1914, O’Keeffe went to New York to study with Dow.
Along with her 1914-15 classes at Teachers College, Columbia University, O’Keeffe’s artistic development included visiting the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, or 291 as it was generally known, which from 1905 to 1917 showcased modern European and American art, often exhibiting artists for the first time in this country. O’Keeffe attended the controversial exhibition of Auguste Rodin’s watercolor nudes in 1908 while a student at the Art Students League, but it was not until 1915 that she met the charismatic and opinionated Alfred Stieglitz, founder of the gallery with fellow photographer Edward Steichen. Stieglitz produced the highly influential magazine Camera Work from 1903 until 1917, one of the publications that O’Keeffe read, along with The Masses, to keep up with developments in Modernism when she was not in New York.
O’Keeffe was teaching at Columbia College in South Carolina when she had her artistic breakthrough, producing a series of highly abstract, charcoal drawings that she sent to her friend Anita Pollitzer in New York, who had been a fellow student at Columbia Teachers College. Pollitzer took the works to Stieglitz, who included them in a group show at 291 in May 1916. Stieglitz gave O’Keeffe her first solo exhibition at 291 in April 1917, and she did travel to New York in June in order to see it. Stieglitz began photographing her that summer. Shortly afterwards, she returned to her teaching job at West Texas State Normal College in Canyon but in 1918 she accepted Stieglitz’s offer of support for a year so that she could concentrate on art and no longer have to teach. Stieglitz was 54 and married, although unhappily, yet he and O’Keeffe began a personal relationship in the summer of 1918 and, when Stieglitz was granted a divorce in 1924, he and O’Keeffe married.
Despite controversy over what critics and the public saw as sexual imagery in her work, a controversy which had been fueled by an exhibition of intimate photographs Stieglitz made of O’Keeffe from 1917 to 1919 and exhibited in 1921, O’Keeffe saw her sales increase steadily and she easily became the most successful artist in the Stieglitz Circle. After 291 closed in 1917, Stieglitz directed the Intimate Gallery (1925-29) and An American Place (1929-1946). Unlike her abstractions of the nineteen-teens which had been deeply influenced by Wassily Kandinsky and Dow, O’Keeffe’s work in the decade of the 1920s was more pictorial than wholly abstract, including large-scale images of flowers as well as urban architecture inspired by time spent at Lake George in upstate New York and in New York City. She used a minimum of detail and strong, saturated color.
In the early 1930s, O’Keeffe suffered from mental and physical breakdowns. Over the decade, she spent more and more time away from Lake George and from Stieglitz, with whom she had an increasingly difficult relationship. She did continue her annual exhibitions at An American Place through 1950. After a summer visit to the Taos ranch of art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan in 1929, O’Keeffe would return again and again to New Mexico. While there, she painted the Southwest landscapes and churches, bones and rocks. In 1940, she bought her house at Ghost Ranch, and in 1945 an abandoned adobe building at Abiquiu. When Stieglitz became ill, she did return to New York in the years before his death in 1946 to care for him, but, after settling his estate, she moved permanently to Abiquiu in 1949. Although she was never completely out of the public eye, her retrospective at the Whitney in 1970 revived critical interest in her work, revealing her as an original American woman artist to members of the burgeoning feminist movement. O’Keeffe’s work also seemed a precursor of Minimalism, so the last two decades of her life her work seemed especially relevant. O’Keeffe was the first woman to be honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1962, and received the Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford in 1977.
O’Keeffe had lost her central vision by 1971, but, using her peripheral vision, she continued to paint. She also traveled widely, to Morocco, Central America, the Caribbean and Hawaii. As she lost more of her vision, she was encouraged by her studio assistant Juan Hamilton to begin work hand-building pots in clay. In 1986, O’Keeffe died in Santa Fe at the age of 98, having lived an extraordinary life and leaving an outstanding legacy of over two thousand works.
About Romare Bearden
The celebrated African American modernist and collage artist Romare Bearden (1911–1988) took great inspiration from music. He often made musicians the subject of his art, but music inspired his form and style as well. He said, “I listened for hours to recordings of Earl Hines at the piano. Finally, I was able to concentrate on the silences between the notes. I found this was very helpful to me in the transmutation of sound into colors and in the placement of objects in my paintings and collages. I could have studied this integration and spacing in Greek vase painting … but with Earl Hines I ingested it within my own background. Jazz has shown me the ways of achieving artistic structures that are personal to me, but it also provides me continuing finger-snapping, head-shaking enjoyment.”
Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, but moved with his family to New York as a young child.  The family settled in Harlem. His parents were both college-educated, and they became prominent members of the African American community in Harlem. Bearden’s mother eventually became the editor of the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper. Bearden grew up surrounded by noted members of the Harlem Renaissance: musician Duke Ellington, poet Langston Hughes, and sculptor Augusta Savage.
Although New York remained his home for the rest of his life, Bearden traveled throughout his childhood—to visit grandparents in Pittsburgh and back to rural North Carolina to see relatives. Bearden recounts that a childhood friend in Pittsburgh first taught him how to draw. In college, he took classes in art and applied his drawing skills to producing political cartoons. He also began painting, taking night classes with the painter and graphic artist George Grosz at the Art Students League. He graduated from New York University in 1935 with a degree in education and became a caseworker for the New York City Department of Social Services. He supported himself in this position off and on, sometimes full-time, until 1969.
Bearden served in the military during World War II and was posted to several different locations throughout the United States. He continued painting; he had his first solo exhibition at a Harlem gallery in 1940 and subsequent shows in a gallery in Washington, D.C. In 1945, he began exhibiting with the Samuel Kootz Gallery in Manhattan. His work at the time depicted African American life in a decidedly modernist, Cubist-inspired style, evident in The Family, 1941, collection of Earle Hyman. In 1950, he went to Paris on the G.I. Bill. He painted little in France, but he visited museums enthusiastically and frequented cafés with other American expatriate artists and writers. He recalled seeing Henri Matisse pass by one day and expressed his pleasure when the waiters and customers greeted the aged artist with wild applause.
The 1950s was a troubled time for the artist; he was briefly hospitalized in 1956. In an attempt to earn money to return to Paris, he temporarily abandoned painting to try his hand at composing music. In remarks that he made at Reynolda House in 1982, he recalled, “When I came back [from Paris], I had a studio that used to be a rehearsal hall for the Apollo Theater. It had a piano, and I wanted to get back to Paris, so I said, ‘I’ll sit down and write a hit song, like Irving Berlin or Cole Porter.’ Of course, I didn’t know how to play the piano. But if you don’t think this way, there’s no use being an artist!”  He actually penned a hit, “Sea Breeze,” which was recorded by Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine. But the urge to paint was too strong to resist, and he returned to art with new enthusiasm, experimenting with abstraction and making his first collages.
In 1963, Bearden and several other African American artists formed a group called Spiral to discuss ways that they as artists could engage with the Civil Rights movement. Bearden suggested that they collaborate on a collective collage. The idea led him to explore the medium more extensively in his own work, taking images from magazines and newspapers and combining them with paper and paint to create dynamic depictions of contemporary African American life. He also began making black and white Photostat enlargements of his collages, and he exhibited these, called Projections, at Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery in 1964 as exemplified by The Street, 1964, Estate of Romare Bearden. The exhibition was well reviewed, representing the first serious critical attention Bearden received.
From the mid-1960s on, collage became Bearden’s primary medium. He created gritty, rhythmic compositions depicting the lives of African Americans as he observed them in New York City as seen in Spring Way, 1964, Smithsonian American Art Museum. He also returned to North Carolina and drew on the lives of rural African Americans in their small houses and on their farms, evident in Watching the Good Trains Go By, 1964, Columbus Museum of Art. He often drew on sources from history, literature, religion, and the art of the Renaissance and Baroque. His collages combined images from popular magazines with colored paper and paint; occasionally, as in his 1977 series based on Homer’s Odyssey, he eschewed the magazine cut-outs in favor of figures and images created just from intricately cut paper. He also experimented with other media as well, creating watercolors and prints, which were sometimes based on earlier collages, a process he compared to the “call-and-response” form of the Negro spiritual.
Bearden was passionately committed to advancing African American causes. His experiments with the Photostat process, which produced a negative version of an image, inspired him to begin turning white figures black, as he did with all of the Homeric characters in his Odyssey series. He also took Old Master paintings and re-imagined them with black figures instead of white, asking his viewers to affirm the universality of both art and human existence. With his friend Harry Henderson, he wrote A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present.
In 1973, Bearden and his wife Nanette built a home on the island of Saint Martin, where her family originated. They divided their time between their Caribbean home and New York, where his work continued to draw accolades. He was the subject of large retrospective exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in 1971, at the Mint Museum in Charlotte in 1980, and at the North Carolina Museum of Art in 1988. In 1987, he received the National Medal of the Arts. He died in 1988; fifteen years later, a large-scale retrospective at the National Gallery of Art helped to cement his reputation as one of the most important twentieth-century American modernists.
 Bearden, quoted in “The Art of Romare Bearden: A Resource for Teachers,” http://www.nga.gov/education/classroom/bearden/musac3.shtm
 See Ruth Fine, et. al. The Art of Romare Bearden. Exhibition catalogue, (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2003).
 Transcript of videotaped remarks made by Romare Bearden at Reynolda House in October 1982. Archives, Reynolda House Museum of American Art.
Reynolda, in Winston-Salem, N.C., is a rare gem among the nation’s cultural institutions and historic greenspaces. The 53-year-old museum at the center of Reynolda’s 170 acres, Reynolda House Museum of American Art presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds’s historic home. Spanning 250 years, the collection is an uncompromisingly selective one, a chronology of American art, with each artist represented by one work of major significance. The Reynolda experience includes a free app called Reynolda Revealed; touring exhibitions in the museum’s Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing; formal gardens, conservatory and walking trails of Reynolda Gardens; and more than 25 of the estate’s original buildings repurposed as shops and restaurants in Reynolda Village. Reynolda, located at 2250 Reynolda Road, is part of Wake Forest University. For more information, please visit reynolda.org.
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