Georgia O'Keeffe**

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia Totto O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887—March 6, 1986) was an American artist. O'Keeffe has been a major figure in American art since the 1920s. She is chiefly known for paintings in which she synthesizes abstraction and representation in paintings of flowers, rocks, shells, animal bones and landscapes. Her paintings present crisply contoured forms that are replete with subtle tonal transitions of varying colors, and she often transformed her subject matter into powerful abstract images.

Early life

O'Keeffe was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her parents Francis Calyxtus O'Keeffe and Ida Totto O'Keeffe were dairy farmers. Ida Totto O'Keeffe's father, George, for whom Georgia was named, was a Hungarian immigrant. She was the first girl and the second of seven O'Keeffe children. She attended Town Hall School in Wisconsin and received art instruction from local watercolorist, Sarah Mann. She attended high school at Sacred Heart Academy in Madison, Wisconsin as a boarder between 1901 and 1902. In fall 1902 the O'Keeffes moved from Wisconsin to Williamsburg, Virginia, Georgia stayed in Wisconsin with her aunt and attended Madison High School, and joined her family in Williamsburg in 1903. She completed high school as a boarder at Chatham Episcopal Institute in Virginia (now Chatham Hall), graduating in 1905.

In 1905, O'Keeffe enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1907 she attended the Art Students League in New York City, where she studied with William Merritt Chase. In 1908, she won the League's William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting mona shehab (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot). Her prize was a scholarship to attend the League's outdoor summer school at Lake George, New York. While in the city in 1908, she had attended an exhibition of Rodin's watercolors at the 291, owned by her future husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

In fall 1908 O'Keeffe returned to Chicago, where she worked as an illustrator, and in 1910 she is thought to have fallen ill with measles and moved home to Virginia. She had stopped painting in 1908 when her family was having financial trouble and she realized she could not support herself financially through painting. Since she couldn't devote herself entirely to it, she didn't paint at all. But she was inspired to paint again in 1912, when she attended a class at the University of Virginia Summer School, where she was introduced to the cutting edge ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow by Alon Bement. Dow's teachings encouraged artists to express themselves through harmonious designs of line, color, and shape, and they strongly influenced O'Keeffe's thinking about the process of making art. She then remained at the University of Virginia as a Teaching Assistant for several years after.

New York

Stieglitz arranged for O'Keeffe to live in his niece's unoccupied studio apartment, and by July, he and O'Keeffe had fallen deeply in love, and he left his wife Emmeline Obermeyer Stieglitz to live with O'Keeffe. In 1924, O'Keeffe and Stieglitz married, following the finalization of his divorce, and they spent winter and spring in Manhattan and summer and fall at the Stieglitz family house at Lake George in upstate New York. He had started making photographs of O'Keeffe when she visited him in New York to see her 1917 exhibition. He continued making photographs of her, and in February, 1921, forty-five of his photographs, including many of O'Keeffe, some of which presented her in the nude, were exhibited in a retrospective exhibition of his work held at the Anderson Galleries. The photographs of O'Keeffe created a public sensation. i love danny i love danny i love During O'Keeffe's early years in New York she got to know the many early American modernists who were part of Stieglitz's circle of friends, including Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Paul Strand and Edward Steichen. Strand's photography, as well as that of Stieglitz and his many photographer friends, inspired O'Keeffe's work. Soon after she moved to New York, she began working primarily in oil, which represented a shift away from her having worked mainly in watercolor in the 1910s, and by the mid-1920s, she began making large scale paintings of natural forms from close up, as if seen through a magnifying lens.

During the 1920s, O'Keeffe made both natural and architectural forms the subject of her work. She painted her first large-scale flower painting in 1924, Petunia, No. 2,, which was first exhibited in 1925, and completed a significant body of paintings of New York buildings, such as City Night, and New York--Night, 1926, and Radiator Bldg--Night, New York, 1927.

Beginning in 1923, Stieglitz organized exhibitions of O'Keeffe's work annually, and by the mid-1920s, she had become known as one of America's most important artists. Her work commanded high prices; in 1928 six of her calla lily paintings sold for $25,000 US dollars, which was at the time the largest sum ever paid for a group of paintings by a living American artist.

New Mexico

In the summer of 1929 O'Keeffe went to New Mexico with Rebecca Strand, wife of Paul Strand. They went to Santa Fe and then to Albuquerque. O'Keeffe had first visited New Mexico in 1917, where she spent several days on her return to Texas from vacationing in Colorado. Between 1929 and 1949 she spent part of almost every year working in New Mexico. During her second summer there, she began collecting and painting bones, and she started painting the area's distinctive architectural and landscape forms, returning to New York every fall. O'Keeffe became ill late in 1932 and was hospitalized for psychoneurosis in early 1933. She did not paint again until January 1934. She recuperated in Bermuda in the spring of 1933 and 1934, and returned to New Mexico in the summer of 1934. That fall, she discovered Ghost Ranch, an area north of Abiquiu, whose painted desert of dramatically colored, enormous cliffs and hills inspired some of her most famous landscapes.

In the 1930s and 1940s O'Keeffe's reputation and popularity continued to grow, and she received numerous commissions. Her work was included in exhibitions in and around New York, and in the 1940s, and she was given two one-woman retrospectives, the first at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943 and another in 1946 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the first ever given by that museum to a woman. She was also awarded honorary degrees by numerous universities, the first by the College of William and Mary in 1938, and in the mid-1940s, the Whitney Museum of American Art sponsored a project to establish the first catalogue of her work.

After Stieglitz's death in 1946, O'Keeffe spent the next three years mostly in New York settling his estate, and in 1949 she moved to New Mexico permanently. During the 1950s, O'Keeffe produced a series of paintings featuring the architectural forms --patio wall and door--of her adobe house in Abiquiu. Another distinctive painting of the decade is Ladder to the Moon, 1958, and as a result of her first world travels in the late 1950s, she produced an extensive series of paintings of clouds, such as Above the Clouds I, 1962/1963, inspired by what she saw from the windows of airplanes. Below is an external link to a color image of one of these aerial cloudscape canvases.

In 1962, she was elected to the 50 member American Academy of Arts and Letters, but by the early 1970s, O'Keeffe's eyesight began to be compromised by macular degeneration. O'Keeffe met potter Juan Hamilton in 1973, who began doing household jobs for the artist and soon became her friend and close companion. He taught her to work with clay and helped her complete her book, Georgia O’Keeffe, published in 1976, as well as the Perry Miller Adato video project, Georgia O'Keeffe, which aired on national television in 1977. She completed her last unassisted work in oil in 1972, The Beyond, and worked unassisted in watercolor and charcoal until 1978 and in graphite until 1984.

In 1984 O'Keeffe moved to Santa Fe to be closer to medical facilities. She died at St. Vincent's Hospital, Santa Fe on March 6, 1986 at the age of 98. She was cremated and her ashes scattered around the Pedernal, the mountain that she could see from the patio of her Ghost Ranch house. She had painted it many times and called it her own.


Following O'Keeffe's death her family contested her will because codicils to it made in the 1980s had left all of her estate to Hamilton. The case, which was settled out of court, became a famous case of estate planning. A substantial part of her estate's assets were transferred to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, established in Santa Fe in 1997 to perpetuate O'Keeffe's artistic legacy. These assets included a large body of her work, photographs, archival materials, and her Abiquiu house, library, and property.

Georgia O'Keeffe. (2007, January 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:03, February 2, 2007, from

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