The Artist Georgia O’Keeffe

Born on November 15, 1887, in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia O’Keeffe was a female artist and icon of the twentieth century. She was an early avant-garde artist of American Modernism. Her life spanned 98 years, and her portfolio includes many works of American landscapes. She received early art instruction at the Art Institute of Chicago (1905-1907). In 1907, she moved to New York City and studied under William Merritt Chase as a member of the Art Students League. Her early career led her to further studies at Columbia University Teacher’s College and educational posts at the University of Virginia and Columbia College.

In her New York years, O’Keeffe created works described as examples of avant-garde Modernism, abstract, Minimalist, and color field theory. Two of her paintings demonstrate her lifelong skill with color regardless of the subject matter. In 1919, O’Keefe created “Blue and Green Music” and became prominent with support from Alfred Stieglitz. This abstract piece is a beautiful work of rhythm, movement, color, depth, and form. She echoes this work again in 1927 with “Abstraction Blue.” When O’Keeffe painted in watercolor or oil, she also captured beauty and emotion. In later works, O’Keeffe continued this tradition, including famous pictures of flowers and New Mexican landscapes.

O’Keeffe developed a powerful relationship with the wealthy and famous photographer, Alfred Stieglitz. The two were quite a power duo. Stieglitz is remembered as the first photographer to be exhibited in American museums, the power behind Modernist artists with his gallery 291 in New York City, the person who brought Modernism (ala Picasso) to America, and an artistic influence on artists like Ansel Adams. Although their friendship began in 1917 while Stieglitz was still married to his wife, O’Keeffe married Stieglitz in 1924.

When Stieglitz died in 1946, O’Keeffe moved from their home in Manhattan’s Shelton Hotel to New Mexico. She divided her time between a home called Ghost Ranch (frequented since the mid-thirties and purchased in 1940) and a Spanish colonial at Abiqui (purchased in 1945 and occupied in 1949). In her “Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II” (1930), O’Keeffe again depicts movement, beauty, volume, and depth, especially in brilliant blue forms of New Mexican mountains. O’Keeffe’s work reflected other travels and influences, including a friendship with the Mexican artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s cultural impact is preserved by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This museum offers the only research center in the world devoted to scholarly study in American Modernism. A visit to this museum or another venue where her work is shown suggests why she was the first woman to have a solo exhibition in 1946 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. O’Keeffe died on March 6, 1986.