Georgia O’Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986) was an American artist whose work became so influential she was dubbed the “mother of American modernism”. Although she is best known for her paintings, she also worked in the mediums of photography and sculpture. An early explorer of abstraction, O’Keeffe’s work is recognizable for its organic, natural forms. Common subject matters for her paintings are flowers and the objects and landscapes of the American Southwest.
O’Keeffe was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in 1887. As a child she showed an affinity for nature and art, which her parents encouraged. She pursued her arts education at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Student League in New York City, and the University of Virginia.
In 1915 O’Keeffe began her first experimentation with abstraction through a series of charcoal drawings. She mailed these drawings to a friend who showed them to photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz was immediately impressed and put them on display in his New York City gallery, 291. Thus began O’Keeffe’s reputation as a leader in abstraction and her lifelong relationship with Stieglitz.
With the support of Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe moved to New York City in 1918. The two artists fell in love and began an affair despite Stieglitz’s marriage. His marriage ended in divorce and O’Keeffe and Stieglitz wed in 1924. Joining Stieglitz’s circle of artist friends, O’Keeffe was exposed to the new ideas of the modern art movement and she began producing her iconic close-up paintings of flowers. These flower paintings and an exhibition of paintings of New York City skyscrapers cemented her status as one of America’s most important modern artists.
O’Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1929 and instantly found inspiration in the cultures and landscapes of the southwest. She returned each summer to paint. During this time she made some of her most famous paintings of sun bleached animal skulls, desert landscapes, and southwest flowers. Three years after Stieglitz’s death in 1946, O’Keeffe moved to New Mexico permanently.
In the 1960’s O’Keeffe’s style shifted again, and she began producing almost surreal paintings of clouds. O’Keeffe painted her last unassisted painting in 1972. Suffering from macular degeneration, she was slowly losing her eyesight. However, she continued to produce artworks into her later years with the help of assistants. Georgia O’Keeffe was presented with the Medal of Freedom in 1977 by President Gerald Ford. The mother of American modernism died in 1986 at the age of 98. Her ashes were spread across the desert landscape that had inspired her life’s work.
In this part of the course we’ll explore Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and legacy and become familiar with the style, common subject matters, and themes of her work.