Alligator Pears in a Basket 1921

Georgia O’Keeffe, Alligator Pears in a Basket, 1921; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2013 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In this charcoal drawing, Georgia O’Keeffe modernizes the age-old subject of the still life. She abstracts the forms of basket and avocados by eliminating color, details, and references to setting, leaving the viewer to contemplate an interplay of forms and spaces. The roundness of the fruit echoes the curves of the basket, and the negative (white) space is as important compositionally as the positive (dark) space occupied by the objects. In 1922, O’Keeffe observed: “Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.”

Alligator Pears in a Basket was part of a series of still lifes the artist created during the early 1920s. O’Keeffe was known to repeat compositional elements, including rounded forms, light-dark gradations, and spatial experiments, across the various mediums in which she worked. Her later paintings, such as the series of black river rocks painted in the 1960s and 70s, often bore a close relationship to her earlier drawings.