The Highland Lighthouse Series


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Ida Ten Eyck O'Keeffe (American, 1889–1961), Variation on a Lighthouse Theme IV, c. 1931–1932. Oil on canvas, 20 x 17 in. Jeri L. Wolfson Collection

In June 1931, immediately after receiving her bachelor’s degree, Ida O’Keeffe enrolled in a one-month course on advanced painting taught by Charles J. Martin, one of her former professors located in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Under Martin, O’Keeffe expanded her existing approach to compositional design and embraced his emphasis on modernist aesthetics rather than strict realism.
 
Over the following year, O’Keeffe produced a series of seven works featuring the Highland Light, an iconic landmark south of Provincetown. The first, a realistic representation (current location unknown), was followed by six increasingly experimental canvases. She later explained, “With each progressive lighthouse, new colors and compositions were introduced, each one becoming more radiant in color and more complicated in composition.” Key to the development of the series were the theories of dynamic symmetry, a popular compositional device for artists at the time based on the mathematical principles of the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio.