How does the same idea land, independently, in two different people?
That was my question when I saw Imogen Cunningham’s 1925 photograph “Magnolia Blossom” at the deYoung Museum for the first time recently. Though the photograph is black-and-white, its intimacy immediately made my mind flash to Georgia O’Keeffe and any number of her intensely colored, but equally intimate, floral paintings that I am well acquainted with. ”Petunias” for example, from 1926, which lives on another floor of the same museum.
In the two works, no real liberties are taken with the flowers — they are quite recognizable. Their value lies not in their individual botany but in the excuse they give their artists to turn natural forms into compositional elements, observation into design.
Imogen and Georgia were not known to have met until sometime in the ’30s and there is no indication that they knew of each other’s work any earlier. And it also doesn’t seem that they had any sustained relationship — did their equally long and prolific lives and careers make them competitive rather than compatible? Still working almost to the end, Imogen died in 1976 at age 93 and Georgia in 1986 at 98.
The spirit of inspiration does not limit herself.