From the Plains II, dated 1954, is the second version of a painting executed in 1919, thirty-five years earlier, in Amarillo, Texas. In the early painting, which is vertical in format, O’Keeffe had wished to represent, according to her own testimony, the fascination she had felt on witnessing cattle being herded across the vast plains of this arid part of the country, kicking up dust and causing a deafening din. In this second rendering, the vastness of the plains of Texas is even more imposing, heightened by the horizontal format of the canvas and by the flaming colours of sunset. O’Keeffe commented on this painting in a letter to the gallery owner Edith Halpert that “the color is just plain color out of the tube — red and orange to lemon — It shocks me so that I’m rather struck with it — I don’t know what it will get to.”
The painter has simplified and enhanced the abstraction of the image in order to provide a visual equivalent of her memories. “My first memory is of the brightness of light — light all around, ” she stated on one occasion. Her obsession with the light, which had moved her so greatly in Texas, led her to spend long periods away from New York from 1929 onwards in radiant New Mexico, and she settled permanently in the small village of Abiquiu in 1949. In these remote parts, the luminosity of her paintings became even more transparent and it is sometimes more nativistic or infused with a certain religious symbolism. At the same time, she used increasingly large formats to adapt to the imposing scale of the desert landscape.