Rare chance to see O'Keeffe masterpiece at Harwood Museum of Art in Taos
By Medicine Man Gallery on
Georgia O'Keeffe 'The Lawrence Tree' | Courtesy Harwood Museum of Art
A rare and exciting opportunity presents visitors to the Harwood Museum in Taos through January 28, 2024, as Georgia O’Keeffe’s The Lawrence Tree, painted just outside the city, will be on view as part of the museum’s centennial celebration. O’Keeffe kept the masterpiece in her personal collection until selling it to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT at age 94 in 1981.
The unusual picture with the ground-up, “worm’s eye view” perspective hasn’t been in New Mexico since.
The tree is named after English writer and philosopher D.H. Lawrence. He’s best known for authoring the scandalous Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published in 1928 and banned in the United States until a landmark obscenity trial in 1959 allowed for its distribution.
Lawrence and his wife Frieda first visited Taos in 1922. The couple was hosted by local art patron, writer and one-time New York socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan. Luhan put them up on what was then known as the Kiowa Ranch, 160 acres located 20 miles northwest of Taos on Lobo Mountain so named for the Kiowa Indian trail running through property.
Just outside the door to their cabin, a mighty pine tree stood. Lawrence would spend mornings writing under the tree and included it in numerous works, most prominently “Pan in America, 1924” which includes this passage: “At night, when the lamplight shines out the window, the great trunk dimly shows, in the near darkness, like an Egyptian column, supporting some powerful mystery in the overbranching darkness.”
Georgia O’Keeffe in Taos
O’Keeffe visited Taos in May 1929, also on the invitation of Luhan, staying four months, including three weeks at Kiowa Ranch. While O’Keeffe and Lawrence never met in person, she was a fan and the two corresponded.
It was during this visit where she produced the painting which some authorities interpret as a portrait of Lawrence.
The painting’s point-of-view has rarely been duplicated in art history. It appears as if O’Keeffe painted the scene while lying on her back. The nebulous orientation allows for the painting to be hung with any side on top or bottom.
“The significance (of the painting) lies in her first year in Taos in 1929 and the things she was discovering about herself as an independent woman, as an artist, and as an important player in the American Modernism movement,” Nicole Dial-Kay, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Harwood Museum, said.
O’Keeffe was in her early 40s when she made the trip, her first to New Mexico, the place which would center her life and art practice for most of the next 60 years.
When formally requesting The Lawrence Tree on loan, it was this point which Dial-Key stressed to the Wadsworth Atheneum.
“O’Keeffe’s transformative experience in Taos changed the course of the artist’s life and career,” Dial-Key wrote in the request. “Work like The Lawrence Tree evidence the important experimentation with new subject matter and views of perspective undertaken while in Taos.”
D.H. Lawrence Ranch
D.H. Lawrence was last in Taos in 1925, but Frieda returned there to live in 1930, the same year her husband died. The pair were reunited when she had Lawrence’s body exhumed and his cremated ashes brought to the ranch in 1934.
Months before her death in 1955, Frieda gifted the Ranch to the University of New Mexico stipulating it be used for educational, cultural and recreational purposes and that the Lawrence memorial be open to the public.
Remarkably, the Lawrence Tree still stands today on the property which has been renamed the D.H. Lawrence Ranch and is again open to visitors. The Harwood will even be hosting plein air classes on site in conjunction with its centennial, where you can bet more than a few artists will be trying their hand at recreating O’Keeffe’s iconic viewpoint.
Harwood Museum staff hanging Georgia O'Keeffe's 'The Lawrence Tree'| Courtesy Harwood Museum of Art