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No. 15 Special

Georgia O'Keeffe, American, 1887 - 1986

Geography:
Made in United States, North and Central America

Date:
1916-1917

Medium:
Charcoal on laid paper

Dimensions:
Sheet: 18 7/8 x 24 3/8 inches (47.9 x 61.9 cm)

Copyright:
© The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

* Gallery 122, Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, first floor (Korman Gallery)

Accession Number:
1997-39-1

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with the gift (by exchange) of Dr. and Mrs. Paul Todd Makler, with funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. John J. F. Sherrerd, the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, the Lola Downin Peck Fund, and gift of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, 1997

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Label:
This drawing is one of several made in 1915-16 that O'Keeffe regarded as pivotal in her artistic development. She recalled the moment of its making as a sort of revelation, which she described with characteristically straightforward yet poetic phrasing: "I realized that I had things in my head not like what I had been taught not like what I had seen shapes and ideas so familiar to me that it hadn't occurred to me to put them down." Among these "shapes and ideas" were memories of the Palo Duro Canyon, today a scenic attraction of the Texas panhandle, that O'Keeffe remembered as a solitary and protective refuge. She and one of her sisters would negotiate steep descents into the canyon floor, reveling in the combined sensation of adventure and fear: "Those perilous climbs were frightening but they were wonderful to me and not like anything I had known before." One may guess that O'Keeffe viewed her artistic career as a similarly adventurous undertaking, an exploration that brought her solace and protection mixed with nervous excitement.

Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    This large, finished charcoal drawing of 1916 was created at the moment when Georgia O’Keeffe set aside what she had been taught and decided to use an entirely personal set of shapes and ideas in her work. With the conscious intention of making art unlike anything others had done before her, she stopped painting and made a series of bold, quasi-abstract charcoal drawings. Clearly this drawing was one in which she felt she had succeeded in her aim, for she kept it in her possession until her death and gave it the title Special—a name she reserved for the works that held particular meaning for her.

    The drawing’s composition of broad, intersecting and opposing curves portrays the Palo Duro Canyon near Canyon, Texas, where O’Keeffe moved in 1916 to teach art at the West Texas Normal State College. She wrote of her explorations of the vast quiet canyon, populated only by cattle, and of the frightening climbs down its plunging banks. O’Keeffe made many small sketches of the place, but Special No. 15 is the culminating image of the subject.

    In 1917 the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who later became O’Keeffe’s husband, included Special No. 15 in the first exhibition of O’Keeffe’s work at his New York Gallery “291.” The following year, he placed the drawing in the background of photographic portraits of her.

    Special No. 15 is the earliest of four O’Keeffe drawings that are the partial gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation; they are the first drawings by her to enter the collection, which holds seven of her paintings. Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), pp. 86-87.


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