Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe's Pears

Here is a simple painting of two pears by American painter Georgia O'Keeffe (1887 - 1986). Although it's not the kind of image we usually associate with her – the close-up paintings of flowers, or images of cow skulls or Southwestern landscapes – it has the same kind of simplicity and monumental feeling as her more familiar work.

Notice how she uses multiple shadows as compositional elements? They ground the pears in the white space, and they help relate the pears to the edges of the white cloth (I assume it's a cloth resting on a table). Without them, those wonderfully solid, modeled pears would float in the white space.

Notice how the cloth's edges are tilted, giving the painting a dynamic feeling? O'Keeffe uses this to create strong and interesting negative spaces. There is still no doubt that those lovely pears are the focal point of the painting. Why? It's partly because the shadows lessen the contrast between the edge of the cloth and the dark table beneath it; partly because she has lightened the shadow around the pear stems, creating greater contrast between them and the white of the cloth; and partly because the shapes of the pear tops and stems are so interesting.

You can see more of Georgia O'Keeffe's work, and read about her life and her homes at

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