Category: Research Notes

The existence of these drawings among O’Keeffe’s papers raises a number of questions: first, why did [architect Peter van der Meulen] Smith create them in the first place? Second, how did they come to be in O’Keeffe’s possession? And third, did the drawings influence [Maria] Chabot’s design for the separate studio building at Abiquiu?

While organizing the 2017 permanent collection reinstallation at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Mythmaking and Truth-Telling: American and Regional Art, I made discoveries in the artist’s papers at the Archives of American Art that allow us to precisely date Miss Maude Adams, as “L’Aiglon” and to better contextualize the painting within the intellectual milieu of its creation.

The apparent plaintiveness and autobiographical transparency of Should Love Come First?, and its early prominence in the then unknown Rauschenberg oeuvre, felt intensified by its obliteration by the artist himself. If ever an artwork had a story worth sleuthing, I figured it was this one, even if it was just the story of its own production.

I immediately recognized that the instruments of his labor—brushes and a bucket of whitewash, used to brighten the walls of soot-filled homes—were often the stuff of racial satire and caricature in the nineteenth century. Was this a sympathetic portrayal of an African American or something much more complicated?

To anyone who had the temerity to press a nose against the picture, to sniff at or try to smell it, he gave a clear message. . . . Just below his signature and the painting’s date, Homer wrote in light-colored script, as if it were flotsam from a wreck: “At 12 feet from this picture/you can see it.”