Sunday, October 7, 2012

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe was an American artist and a pioneer in modern American art. She was born in Wisconsin and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League, New York. She first came to the attention of the New York art community in 1916, at a time when women were not recognized in the art world. Her work was first exhibited in a show at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery "291". She married Stieglitz in 1924, and lived in New York, where she completed some of her most popular works. After Stieglitz's death, O'Keeffe moved to her beloved southwest where she was inspired by the landscape and vistas.

Lake George, 1924

My family has a poster of  Lake George in our home, and I grew up seeing it everyday without knowing much about the painting or the artist. It turns out that O'Keeffe visited Lake George annually with her husband, Stieglitz. She drew inspiration from her surroundings to paint panoramic views and close ups of individual objects. Growing up seeing this painting everyday inspired me to look into O'Keeffe's other works and history, and also to see if she has done many drawings. I learned that her career was in fact launched by her charcoal drawings.

Drawing XIII, 1915

This charcoal drawing is one of O'Keeffe's earlier works shown in Stieglitz's gallery. She shows the growth and movement of nature through abstract forms. The meandering lines suggest a flowing river or flames, the rounded objects suggest hills or trees, and the jagged line represents mountains or lightning. I was excited to see that this was done using charcoal, since it is a medium we have explored in our class.

Early Abstraction, 1915

Here is another one of O'Keeffe's earlier charcoal drawings. In this drawing, there are similar lines and movements as in some of her close-up flower paintings, such as the one depicted below.

Abstraction White Rose, 1927

This is one of O'Keeffe's close-up flower paintings done with oil on canvas. Inspired by things she saw in nature, O'Keeffe often used flowing lines to create close-ups of flowers and other natural objects. This quote by O'Keeffe gives us her perspective on these enormous close-up paintings:

"A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower - the idea of flowers ... So I said to myself - I'll paint what I see - what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it - I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers."

Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue, 1931

"Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue" is one of O'Keeffe's most famous works depicting Southwestern subject matter. O'Keeffe made many extended trips to New Mexico after 1929, and became extremely interested in American Southwest objects and scenery like bones and mountains. In 1949, she moved to New Mexico and resided there until her death in 1986. The interesting shapes and textures of the bones and their positive form and negative space inspired her to depict them. She saw the essence of the dessert in their jagged edges, worn surfaces, and pale color.

O'Keeffe established  a reputation as a leading American artist, and for more than seventy years, depicted images of nature distilled to their essential colors, shapes, and designs. She was a woman who represents an essential version of the American Dream. I admire O'Keeffe for her successes and find her representations of nature through abstract forms to be fascinating.


Berry, Michael. Georgia O'Keeffe. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. Print.

Hassrick, Peter. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. New York: The Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1997. Print.

"Georgia O'Keeffe: Drawing XIII (50.236.2)" In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000-. (October 2006)

"Georgia O'Keeffe Biography." Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, 2011.

"Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue (52.203)" The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012.

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