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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Agnes Lawrence Pelton

Smoking Tree, 1935, Agnes Lawrence Pelton
It's been commonly claimed that everyone has a twin...somewhere. Have you ever seen anyone who looked a lot like yourself? I have, on a couple occasions. Given the number of artists alive and well today, I would also go so far as to postulate that every artist has a twin. I don't mean two artists who look a lot alike, but two artists who paint a lot alike--whose works might be confused. I suppose the same would apply to artists who simply draw or sculpt a lot alike as well. Presumably, any two such artists might well think and react a lot alike in that art is both cerebral and emotional. Their background and training might also be similar. There would probably be differences too--geographical, socio-economic perhaps, even gender. Virtually anyone who knows anything about art knows of Georgia O'Keeffe. How many of you know of Agnes Lawrence Pelton? If Georgia O'Keeffe could be said to have had an artist twin, it would be Agnes Pelton.

Dead Tree with Pink Hill, 1945, Georgia O'Keeffe
Candido, Agnes Lawrence Pelton
Though twins in many surprising ways, in all fairness, the two women would not be identical twins. Agnes was the elder of the two, born in 1881. O'Keeffe was born in 1887, on a farm in Wisconsin. Pelton was born on the other side of the world in Stuttgart, Germany. She and her mother moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 1890 following the death of her father from a Morphine overdose. Agnes' mother was a music teacher, O'Keeffe's parents were farmers. Their childhood years could hardly have been more different. Yet both artists gravitated to the desert southwest which had a profound influence upon their work. Compare Pelton's Smoking Tree (top) from 1935 with O'Keeffe's Dead Tree with Pink Hill (above) from 1945. Though somewhat different in style and color, they might well have been painting the same tree.

Even Song, 1930,
Agnes Lawrence Pelton
Gray Line with Black Blue and Yellow,
1923, Georgia O'Keeffe
Vine Wood, 1913, Agnes Lawrence Pelton
There is a certain cosmic quality in both artist's work, noticeable in their landscapes but much more in their abstract works. Though created several years apart, Pelton's Even Song, (above, left) and O'Keeffe's Gray Line with Black Blue and Yellow (above, right) bear remarkable similarities. Both artists studied with Arthur Wesley Dow in New York; both came to the desert at the invitation of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Both found their true love in the Southwestern landscape. Though O’Keeffe is by far the more famous painter, Pelton’s status has risen as the result of a 2009 show called “Illumination” at the Orange County Museum of Art. Curator, Karen Moss, had the nerve and insight to hang Pelton’s works side-by-side with those of Georgia O’Keeffe. Many visitors felt Pelton outshone her New Mexico counterpart. Notice the similarities in Pelton's Radiance (below, left) and O'Keeffe's Goats Horn with Red (below, right). The titles of both O'Keeffe works would suggest she was much more color oriented than Pelton.

Radiance, 1929,
Agnes Lawrence Pelton
Goats Horn with Red,
Georgia O'Keeffe
Pelton's cottage studio, Thomas
Mountain, near Cathedral City, California
It's uncertain if they ever met, but quite likely they were acquainted with one another's work. Both Pelton and O'Keeffe worked during the 1920s from studios in New York. During the 1930s, O'Keeffe settled in Taos, New Mexico. Pelton moved to Cathedral City, in southern California, some 700 miles west of Taos around the same time. Both artists later spent time painting in Hawaii. Further comparisons of their work highlight both similarities and differences. Pelton's early works reflect her studies in both Europe and the U.S. and the attendant realism of the period. O'Keeffe, in her New York skylines and in her flowers, veers away from realism but seldom entirely rejects it. Pelton, especially in her paintings done late in life, very often eschew objectivity entirely in favor of the metaphysical. Inevitably their usage of color comes to the forefront. Pelton is subtle, O'Keeffe seems anything but. Pelton died in 1961 at the age of eighty, while O'Keeffe survived until 1986. She lived to be ninety-nine.

Agnes Lawrence Pelton in her studio.
Water Mill, Long Island, Agnes Lawrence Pelton,
her home and studio during the 1920s.


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