As a boy, George Of worked in his father’s New York frame shop located at 59 West 56th Street; he would later take over the business and run it until shortly before his death. Influenced by his daily contact with art, he began his formal studies in 1893 at the Art Student’s League. He moved to New Hampshire in 1900 to work with the artist Abbott Handerson Thayer at his farm, and later that year would accompany Thayer to Italy and Germany. Of studied briefly in Munich at the Weinhold School and in Paris at the Académie Delécluse, before returning to his courses at the Art Students League.
In Paris, Of familiarized himself with the most advanced developments in contemporary French art, including Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. However, his style was most influenced by his introduction to the works of Henri Matisse and the Fauvists. Michael and Sarah Stein, Gertrude Stein’s eldest brother and sister-in-law, brought three small Matisse paintings and a drawing with them on their seven-month trip to the United States in 1906. Sarah had shown the works to Of during their visit to New York, and he asked her to procure a painting for him upon their return to Paris. On June 21, 1907, Stein arranged for Of to purchase Nude in a Wood (fig. 1, Brooklyn Museum) from the Galerie Druet, making it the first Matisse to enter a collection in the United States. In 1908, Of lent his painting to Alfred Stieglitz’s Matisse exhibition at 291, Matisse’s first show in America and his first solo show outside Paris. Until the Armory Show in 1913, Nude in a Wood was only one of two oil paintings by Matisse to be publicly exhibited in America. Of also collected sculpture of the Greco-Roman, Gothic, Oriental, and African schools, as well as American artists whom he wanted to encourage such as Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Joseph Stella.