AMONG LETTERS BY PROMINENT ARTISTS, annals by American visual artists are rare. Now comes a compelling text — the vibrant, at times frankly sexual and impassioned letters that flowed between modernist painter Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), so at home in the Southwest with her hair pinned at the nape of her neck, and the pioneering photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1865-1946), whose somewhat self-centered urbanity flourished in the canyons of New York. read more
With its selection of 650 letters, the first volume of My Faraway One covers the period from 1915 through the halcyon years surrounding the couple's marriage in 1924 and the strains that preceded O'Keeffe's trip to New Mexico at the start of the Great Depression. A second volume will present selections from their correspondence until Stieglitz's death.
Stieglitz scholar Sarah Greenough, honoring a request O'Keeffe made of her 30 years ago, has culled and edited the correspondence from the roughly 5,000 letters the pair exchanged until his death. At the request of O'Keeffe, the correspondence was sealed from the public until 2006.
More than anything else, this is an account of a relationship between two highly intelligent and self-aware people. Yet the correspondence also provides a window into the Bloomsbury-like circle that existed amid the early stirrings of modernist art. In the years he ran his storied galleries 291, The Intimate, and The American Place, Stieglitz had seen his mission change from establishing photography as a fine art to marketing new artists broadly. Personages such as the American painters Marsden Hartley and John Marin move in and out of the narrative, as do critics, agents, intellectuals, and distinguished European émigrés.
"For lunch, the New Yorker man joined me to talk about you," writes Stieglitz, who served as O'Keeffe's dealer, in one missive to the artist in May of 1929. "In the meantime," he adds, "people came & wanted to know about prices, about Marins, about O'Keeffes ... [Herbert] Seligmann brought me the four-page [Gaston] Lachaise letter I had dictated. I re-dictated another — "
One December during their courtship, Stieglitz writes, "Towards dusk [Marcel] Duchamp turned up" — this, on a day when Stieglitz's erratic, anarchist assistant Emil Zoler and the modernist Russian-born painter Abraham Walkowitz were also present. Stieglitz writes that he found Duchamp a "very fine simple fellow," adding, "There was not much said — & yet what was said meant very much."
He continues, "And when [Duchamp] was gone & the place was silent — no lights but a gas jet — there was a religious purity pervading all — And it is snowing today. — Silently."
At first, the response by the young O'Keeffe to 291 — so named because of its Fifth Avenue address — and its congregants was enthusiastic. "You enjoyed it — in a way — didn't you — 291 must have been just boiling," she exclaims in 1916 upon receipt of an issue of Camera Work, the journal Stieglitz published from 1903 to 1917. Eight years before, the journal had contained a statement on Stieglitz's resignation from the Camera Club of New York at the request of its staunchly conservative board of trustees.
Eleven years later, O'Keeffe termed the devotion of the m...