East River No. 1
East River No. 1
Oil on linen
12 1/8 x 32 1/8 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Friends of the Wichita Art Museum
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
One of the reasons that Georgia O’Keeffe is recognized as a premier American modernist was the voracity of her genius, her eagerness to grasp so many dimensions of modernist vision and the range of her curiosity in her search for the essence of American experience. East River No. 1, depicting the view from the window of her 30th floor apartment in the new Shelton Hotel, Manhattan,and the series of six images to which it belongs, represents one of the most realistic approaches in her stylistic spectrum. The subject of the industrial New York skyline as well as the reductive description of geometric form and subjective mood links her creative search to the endeavors of many contemporary progressive movements, including ash can school urban realism, photo-secessionist photography, tonalism, and incipient precisionist imagery. O’Keeffe’s East River series exhibits a particular affinity with the innovative photographs taken by her mentor and new husband, Alfred Stieglitz, at the beginning of the century of cityscapes and city streets at night and in hazy weather conditions of rain, snow and fog.
Looking at this intimately-scaled painting from the distance of nearly a century, the monochromatic gray tones and silent, smog-shrouded monoliths of East River No. 1 evoke a romantic nostalgia for a lost empire, the imaginary America of film noir, the rise of America the industrial giant, the America of modernity and progress dreamed of by millions of immigrants. O’Keeffe, unintentionally perhaps, seems to have rendered an image that could take its place as a descendant of that early 19th century American painter of lost empires and Arcadian vistas, Thomas Cole.
The acquisition of the Georgia O’Keeffe painting East River No. 1 holds a special place in the hearts of the Wichita Art Museum volunteer community. In 1976 during the construction of the new Wichita Art Museum building designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes, the WAM volunteer alliance vowed to raise the funds for the purchase of a significant painting by O’Keeffe so as to fill a painful gap in the museum’s otherwise excellent representation of the Alfred Stieglitz circle of artists. By December 1979 the museum could proudly present a handsome Christmas gift of a major O’Keeffe painting to the city of Wichita. The Friends had raised the funds over a period of three years, primarily through the projects of the WAM Gift Shop/Sales-Rental Gallery, the annual Friends Art and Book Fair, and the annual Christmas at the Museum festivities.