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Painting by artist of Hungarian ancestry sells for record sum

By szilagyi.sandor // 2014.11.23.

A painting of a simple white flower by Georgia O’Keeffe, the renowned U. S. artist partially of Hungarian ancestry, has sold for a record-breaking $44.4 million, more than triple the previous auction record for a work by a female artist. Sotheby’s New York says the 1932 painting, “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” sold Thursday during the auction house’s sale of American art.

The painting was sold by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to benefit its acquisitions fund. The buyer made the bid by telephone. Sotheby’s chose not to disclose the buyer’s identity. The previous world auction record for any work by a female artist was $11.9 million, which was the price fetched by Joan Mitchell’s “Untitled” at Christie’s New York in May. The previous auction record for an O’Keeffe work was $6.2 million, set at Christie’s New York in 2001.

Born on 15 November 1887 to a family of dairy farmers in Wisconsin, the modernist artist inherited Hungarian ancestry from her mother’s father, George Victor Totto, a Hungarian count who came to America in 1848. Her work is regularly associated with the American South East and the state of New Mexico in particular, where she chose to settle in her late life. Ms. O’Keeffe is known primarily for her paintings, in which she combined abstract imagery with the depiction of landscapes. Her outstanding career in art was acknowledged by U. S. President Gerald R. Ford when he presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honour awarded to American citizens. Ms. O’Keeffe was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honour specifically given to an individual for achievement in the arts, in 1985 and died one year later at the age of 98. The Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico, was named a National Historic Landmark in 1998.

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photo: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images (John Loengard)