Ida O’Keeffe created seven abstract paintings of Cape Cod’s Highland Light (pictured: Variation on a Lighthouse Theme V). The first in the acclaimed series has been lost. (Dallas Museum of Art)
Variation on a Lighthouse Theme II by Ida O’Keeffe, c. 1931-32 (Dallas Museum of Art)
Tulips by Ida O’Keeffe, 1932 (Collection of Mark and Debra Leslie / Dallas Museum of Art)
Star Gazing in Texas by Ida O’Keeffe, 1938 (Dallas Museum of Art)
A photograph of Ida O’Keeffe taken by Alfred Stieglitz in 1924 (Collection of Michael Stipe / Dallas Museum of Art)

Who Was Ida O’Keeffe, Georgia’s Lesser-Known, But Perhaps More-Talented, Sister?

The painter who toiled in the shadow of her celebrated sibling is the subject of a new, major exhibition

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Sue Canterbury, a curator at the Dallas Museum of Art, was visiting a collector when she noticed a dramatic painting of a lighthouse. The brushwork seemed familiar, yet the composition was wholly original. “I’m standing across the room thinking, ‘Who is that?’” It was Ida O’Keeffe (1889-1961), once considered by her family to be more talented than her eldest sister, Georgia, one of the biggest names in 20th-century art. Ida reportedly grumbled that she’d be famous, too, if she had a Stieglitz. Alfred Stieglitz, the legendary photographer, was Georgia’s husband, patron and gallerist. Ida, by contrast, supported herself as a nurse and teacher, painting about 70 known canvases in her life. Canterbury’s rediscovery led to an extensive hunt for Ida’s work and a major exhibition that raises tantalizing questions about all the gifted women overlooked in an era when so few were given a chance. “Could she have been on the level of Georgia?” Canterbury asks. “That will have to remain unanswered.”

About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Michigan-based freelance journalist writing about cities, science, the environment, art and education. A longtime Smithsonian contributor, her work also appears in CityLab and the Boston Globe.

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