With its brilliant color, dramatic luminosity, and simplified forms, Red Hills, Lake George characterizes the Stieglitz circle’s distinctive approach to landscape painting. Within O'Keeffe's oeuvre, this is a transitional work, presaging the stark drama of her New Mexico landscapes, while also paying homage to her earlier experiences out West and at Lake George.
O'Keeffe often allowed memory-images to emerge years later, recombining and reinterpreting them in a fully realized composition. Her memories of her years teaching in Texas, as well as a brief but memorable trip to New Mexico in 1917 seem to have informed this striking composition. O'Keeffe had recently been reminded of the stark beauty of the West by the recollections of Rebecca and Paul Strand, who had traveled to Taos, New Mexico, in the summer of 1926, as well as by her friendship with Mabel Dodge Luhan, an art patron and writer who had established a residence there.
The stunning red in this painting seems also to reflect her memories of autumn sunsets at Lake George. The deep burning color of the mountains from which the sun radiates in concentric circles vividly reveals O’Keeffe’s profound responses to her natural surroundings. Red Hills, Lake George also reflects O'Keeffe's knowledge and careful study of Kandinsky's treatise On the Spiritual in Art. Her experiments with symbolism would have made her receptive to Kandinksy's theories; his ideas on color and form, and their symbolic and spiritual meanings were integrated into her own set of beliefs. In many ways, Red Hills, Lake George almost appears to be a tribute to Kandinsky. The red plain in the foreground appears solid and limitless, recalling Kandinsky's belief that red has a powerful strength and glowing character. The brilliant color is confined, while, conversely, the rainbow-hued sun radiates outward in soft, concentric waves of yellow, blue, and shades of lilac detailed with supple brushwork; however, the sun burns most intensely at its core of white, Kandinsky's color of joy and purity. The white core also functions as a moment of stillness and silence in the midst of the radiating colors. Red Hills, Lake George reveals O’Keeffe’s fascination with the relationships between the elements of nature she observed.
In 1926, the year before Red Hills, Lake George was painted, Duncan Phillips had already listed O'Keeffe among a group of visionary artists who "have had one aim in common—to link modernity to the infinite by their command of rhythm and by their inventions of new or revitalized instruments of plastic expression." In Phillips's estimate, O’Keeffe joined in the search for underlying mystical qualities which the early American modernists believed dwelled in nature, and, as they did, explored landscape imagery as a vehicle for self-expression.