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When it comes to Georgia O’Keeffe, there is popular history and there is academic history. To the general public, she is a charter member of the American modernists, the woman whose student drawings prompted famed gallerist-photographer Alfred Stieglitz to say, “finally, a woman on paper,” whose physical beauty captured Stieglitz’s camera and heart and whose erotically charged abstract flowers are objects of delight.

Art historians know the story is much more complicated. O’Keeffe was a reluctant modernist at first. She knew the art of her most famous teacher, William Merritt Chase, was doomed. But she disliked the cubism of Cézanne, whose works were stirring the pot in New York’s art world. Then, encouraged to look at the pictures but not the text in Arthur Jerome Eddy’s “Cubists and Post-Impressionism,” O’Keeffe drew inspiration from a work by Arthur Dove, an artist who aspired to be a farmer but who nevertheless made the first abstract painting in America, if not the world. What she saw — his “Based on Leaf Forms and Spaces,” 1911-12 — is now lost. But as O’Keeffe recalled when she was in her 70s, “It was Arthur Dove who affected my start, who helped me to find something of my own.”

Dove/O’Keeffe: Circles of Influence,” at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute here, is the first exhibition to explore their relationship. But what’s important is not that visitors learn art history. It’s that they see for themselves the way these two artists inspired each other over more than three decades and, more important, that they discover, or rediscover, the extraordinary, underappreciated Dove.

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Judith H,. Dobrzynski
Wall Street Journal

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