History And Context
My Shanty, Lake George is similar to O'Keeffe's other Lake George landscapes of the early to mid-1920s. The farm building, which served as the artist's studio, is solid and clearly defined, painted with what critic Alexander Brook termed "a clean dagger that pierces neatly." O'Keeffe's precision-like depiction of the shanty is confounded by the diffuse rendering of pink and orange wildflowers and verdant trees and grass, as well as the curving sweep of the blue-toned hills and clouds overhead. Although it is a seemingly literal depiction of the building, this painting forbids simple classification as solely representational or precisionist. It illustrates O'Keeffe's tendency to overlay objective fact with spiritual and symbolic meanings.
It has been widely commented and written on that O’Keeffe chose to look beyond mere objectivity, portraying a greater spirituality within her paintings. It is believed that My Shanty, Lake George is a symbolic portrait of O’Keeffe; she presents herself obliquely, not as a naturalist representation of her likeness, but the metaphysical representation of her artistic spirit. The shanty is a physical representation of O’Keeffe’s soul, for it is the place where she can retreat from her surroundings and be only for her art. This shanty—her private studio—has been infused with O’Keeffe’s soul.
My Shanty, Lake George was one of three O'Keeffe works that Duncan Phillips had on approval in 1926. He was drawn to its "atmosphere of portentous solitude" and "stark expression of a sombre Celtic mood," a characterization that O'Keeffe later discounted. As she recalled, she had painted My Shanty in response to the criticism of the men in Stieglitz's circle—Arthur Dove, John Marin, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and Paul Strand. "The clean, clear colors [of the shanty] were in my head, but one day as I looked at the brown burned wood of the Shanty I thought, 'I can paint one of those dismal-colored paintings like the men,” recalled O’Keeffe. “I think just for fun I will try—all low-toned and dreary with the tree beside the door." She went on to say, "[I]n my next show 'The Shanty' went up," adding in an ironic tone, "[t]he men seemed to approve of it. They seemed to think that maybe I was beginning to paint."