Spring (1948), a seven-foot-wide Georgia O’Keeffe painting featuring two primroses, a pair of antlers, and the peak of a New Mexican mountain, is prized by experts as a significant entry in the artist’s oeuvre. Owned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, it was painted during a rare period where the artist remained in New York, away from the state of New Mexico, which she frequently called home, and it was one of the largest works she ‘d made when she created it. Then along came a spider that threatened to ruin her masterpiece.
While the painting was housed in the artist’s house in Abiquiú, a tarantula had burrowed through O’Keeffe’s roof, causing a leak that damaged the painting. Now, following a long and arduous restoration, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum has returned Spring to its former glory.
After conservation work conducted live in front of museum visitors last year, the painting has gone back on view at the museum, which plans to show it through mid-October. After the painting’s run there, it will head to the San Diego Museum of Art in California next year.
The Associated Press reported that the restoration of the painting was an epic endeavor: it took 1,250 hours of labor and $145,000 in funding. (A Bank of America grant accounted for a significant chunk of the money.) The conservation of the painting didn’t just correct for the damage indirectly caused by the tarantula, however—it also brought Spring closer to its original color palette. Some of its hues had been altered over time because the painting had been varnished—a process intended to keep a painting from growing dirty, and one that has fallen out of fashion over the past century, since it can impact the look of a work.
In 2020, Dale Kronkright, the head of conservation at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum who oversaw the restoration, told KUNM, a radio station run by the University of New Mexico, that O’Keeffe was uniquely attuned to the look of her paintings— and even once attempted to destroy canvases that she found unsuitable because of the long-term effects of their varnishes. “She did not want obvious damages to draw the eye away from the fluid brushstrokes and scrubbing brushstrokes that she had put there,” he said.
As it happens, the completed conservation of Spring is not the only exciting O’Keeffe news this month. On January 23, the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, Switzerland, will open an O’Keeffe blockbuster that recently showed at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.