From 1924 to 1929, Georgia O’Keeffe painted a handful of views of the New York City skyline. Among the most spectacular of these is Ritz Tower, a painting recently acquired by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The drama of soaring stone is combined with moon-swept clouds and electric light to evoke the spirit of the modern metropolis. Executed in 1928, this portrait of one of the newest and tallest buildings of the day of emblematic of its age: a period of prosperity and growth in the United States. This boom, however, would turn to bust after the stock market crash in 1929 that signaled the start of the Great Depression.
As O’Keeffe remarked of her city scenes: “One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.” In the case of Ritz Tower, evidence of this is revealed by the numerous revisions made to the composition while the painting was in progress—unusual in O’Keeffe’s practice. The halo of the streetlamp has been emphasized, while the tower itself has been rendered more dynamic and abstract. At the time of its opening, in 1927, the Ritz stood as the tallest residential hotel in New York City—a title formerly held by the Shelton, which O’Keeffe also made her subject.