Georgia O'Keeffe —recognized as the "Mother of American modernism" — is considered one of America’s greatest artists.
But even some of O’Keeffe’s biggest fans likely don’t know much about her younger sister, Ida, who was a promising talent in her own right.
This fall, the Dallas Museum of Art is looking to change that with a show devoted to Ida O'Keeffe’s artwork.
Titled Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow, the exhibition, which debuts in November, will bring together some 50 rarely seen paintings, watercolors and drawings by the younger O’Keeffe, including a series of abstract lighthouses painted in the ’30s that showcases Ida’s unique eye for symmetry.
Born in 1889, Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe was the third of seven children. Art ran in the family; her grandmothers, Isabella Totto and Catherine O’Keeffe were both painters. She, Georgia and their sister Anita were sent to study with a local artist when they were young. While Anita did not choose to pursue a career in the field, another sister, Catherine, taught herself to paint and also became an artist, according to Robyn Norton of the Wisconsin State Journal.
For her part, Ida began as a printmaker. She briefly pivoted careers to serve as a nurse before deciding to enroll in Columbia University to get her MFA degree.
According to Eve M. Kahn’s 2014 article in The New York Times, Georgia, Ida and Catherine would occasionally exhibit their works together. However, among them, it was Georgia who emerged as the star.
Georgia, of course, had the benefit of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, an influential photographer and gallerist, to publicize her works in the early days of her career.
But Stieglitz did not extend that support to Ida, who had to fend for herself. As show curator Sue Canterbury explains in an interview Jamie Stengle of the Associated Press, Ida reportedly told Georgia: “I'd be famous, too, if I'd have had a Stieglitz.”
“There was a bit of sibling rivalry,” Canterbury shares with Javier Pes of ArtNet. Georgia thought “there was only room for one painter in the family.” Tensions among the siblings could have also stemmed from Stieglitz’s “roving eye.” As Canterbury explains, Stieglitz wrote romantic letters to Ida in the ’20s. Though there’s no evidence she reciprocated, she did pose for him. These photographs of Ida are also part of the exhibition.
In a press release for the show, Canterbury says the exhibition highlights Ida’s talent, independent of but in the context of Georgia’s. “When one sees the caliber of many of Ida O’Keeffe’s works, it seems incredible that she has remained relatively unknown—especially given the fame of her sister, Georgia; however, it is in the shadow cast by Georgia’s celebrity and ego that we find interesting tales of family dysfunction and sibling rivalry—as well as some seeds of Ida’s thwarted professional aspirations.”
That there are approximately 50 works on view in the show is a feat of its own. As Canterbury tells Stengle, most of Ida’s work is now in private hands, and she's spent the last few years attempting to track pieces down. "It's been really difficult and there are works that I have really great pictures of them, but they've disappeared into collections somewhere and not even dealers can help me find where they are," Canterbury says.
But she's also had some exciting successes. In late 2017, the DMA acquired one of Ida's best-known works, “Spring Lethargy, Texas,” which was completed in 1938 when the artist was teaching in San Antonio. The painting, which will be featured in the show, captures a young woman lit by moonlight, her arms cradling her head, as she stares out past the canvas toward the stars that decorate its frame.
"Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow" will be on view at the DMA until February 24, 2019