Part of a series of architectural paintings O’Keeffe made in the late 1920s, Farmhouse Window and Door shows a detail of the upstate New York farmhouse where she regularly summered with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. The symmetrical window with black shutters is surrounded by a narrow frame of clapboard siding. The floating gray–green rectangle is likely a door inside the home. With its subdued palette and simplified forms, the painting alludes to reflection and transparency. Of this technique O’Keeffe stated, “I found that I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say in any other way.”
Gallery label from 2006.
Farmhouse Window and Door shows a detail of the farmhouse on Lake George, in northern New York State, where O’Keeffe and her husband, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, spent many summers. The window’s structure, flanking shutters, and ornamental pediment can all be recognized in many of Stieglitz’s photographs of the house, but O’Keeffe concentrates them into an image that is simultaneously an essence of Americana and a near abstraction. Viewing the window straight on and close up, she evens and flattens its forms; framing it tightly to show only narrow bands of the wall around it, she almost erases its context. The composition becomes a geometric arrangement of rectangles, broken by the decorative curves and triangle of the pediment.
The clean straight lines and right angles of Farmhouse Window and Door reflect a Precisionist side of O’Keeffe’s work, which elsewhere entails a sensual response to organic shapes and a luxurious delicacy of color. But the austerity of the painting’s flat planes and limited palette disguises a conceptual puzzle: the shutters announce a window but apparently hold a door as well, with rectangular panels below and a glass pane—the green rectangle—above. These features seem to offer a pun on transparency, while the green links the “interior” to the clapboard siding. O’Keeffe could see a universe of color in a petal; through this clear glass, though, she finds a dense opacity.
Lake George Window. 1929
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 139.