SynopsisGeorgia O'Keeffe played a pivotal role in the development of American modernism and its relationship with European vanguard movements of the early 20th century. Producing a substantial body of work over eight decades, she sought to capture the emotion and power of objects through abstracting the natural world. Aware of own importance as an artist from early on, she used signs, symbols and a palette unlike any artist before her. Alfred Stieglitz identified her as the first female American Modernist, whose paintings of flowers, barren landscapes and close up still-lifes have become a part of the mythology and iconography of the American artistic landscape. Her vibrant palette, rigorous and explorations of scale makes her signature style among the most recognized internationally.
Key Ideas / Information
Childhood and Early TrainingGeorgia O'Keeffe was born the second of seven children and received early encouragement by her mother to study art. O'Keeffe was fortunate to come from a family where female education was a tradition. She attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905 and studied with John Vanderpoel.
In the fall of 1907, O'Keeffe moved to New York City and attended classes at the Arts Students League, studying under William Merritt Chase. While there, she frequented exhibitions at Gallery 291, which was owned by photographer Alfred Stieglitz. For the first time O'Keeffe was exposed to popular European artists, such as Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse.
In 1912, after pursuing a career teaching art, O'Keeffe attended drawing classes at the University of Virginia's summer school. Her teacher, Alon Bement, professed an innovative teaching style that was heavily influenced by the artist Arthur Wesley Dow. While teaching at Columbia College in South Carolina in 1915, O'Keeffe began to experiment with Dow's theory of self-exploration through art. She took natural forms, such as ferns, clouds and waves, and began a small series of charcoal drawings that simplified them into expressive, abstract combinations of shapes and lines. After completing the series, O'Keeffe mailed a few of them to her friend Anita Pollitzer, a former classmate, who brought the drawings to the attention of Alfred Stieglitz in January 1916.
Mature PeriodRecognizing her great potential, Stieglitz began a correspondence with O'Keeffe. Unbeknownst to O'Keeffe, he exhibited ten of these charcoals at his Gallery 291. He sent her photographs of her drawings on exhibit and this began their professional relationship. While O'Keeffe continued to teach, she returned to New York in 1917 to view her first solo exhibition, which was again arranged by Stieglitz at 291. During this time, O'Keeffe and Stieglitz began a love affair that would last until his death. In 1918, Stieglitz offered to financially support O'Keeffe for one year so that she could live and paint in New York. She took a leave of absence from her teaching position and for the first time dedicated herself solely to making art. After Stieglitz divorced his first wife, he married O'Keeffe in 1924.
During the 1920s, Stieglitz introduced O'Keeffe to his circle of friends, including Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Paul Strand and Edward Steichen, many of who championed modernism in the United States. O'Keeffe was profoundly influenced by Strand's photography and the camera's ability to behave like a magnifying lens. She began making large-scale paintings of natural forms at close range, and, during this time, also switched from watercolors to oil paint. In addition to flowers, O'Keeffe depicted New York skyscrapers and other architectural forms. By the mid-1920s, O'Keeffe was already recognized as one of the most significant American artists of the time and her art began to command high prices.
O'Keeffe's fascination with the landscape of New Mexico began in 1929, when she was a guest of famous arts patron, Mabel Dodge Luhan, at Dodge's ranch near Taos. O'Keeffe became enamored with New Mexico's landscape of vistas and barren land, returning every summer until 1949 to paint. Works produced from this landscape captured the beauty of the desert, vast skies, distinctive architectural forms, and bones, which she collected from the desert. O'Keeffe's eventual purchase of two properties in New Mexico further connected her to the land, often referred to now as O'Keeffe country.
During the 1930s and 1940s, O'Keeffe's popularity continued to grow and she was honored with two important retrospectives, first in 1943 at the Art Institute of Chicago and then in 1946 at MoMA. While she was spending the summer of 1946 in New Mexico, Stieglitz suffered a massive stroke. Though married, O'Keeffe had spent ample amounts of time away from him, living independently and working on her art. She quickly returned to New York to be with him as his health deteriorated.
Late Period and DeathIn 1949, three years after Stieglitz's death, O'Keeffe permanently moved to New Mexico. In the 1950s, she produced a series of works that featured the architectural forms of her patio wall and door at Abiquiu, one of her two homes near Santa Fe. O'Keeffe began to travel extensively, gathering further inspiration for her work. She received many accolades, including a membership to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts. Despite waning popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, a retrospective held by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1970 revived her career and brought her to the attention of a new generation of women in the era of feminism. Despite failing eyesight, O'Keeffe continued to produce art, working in watercolor, pencil and clay throughout the 1970s. Though she had lost her central vision by the age of 84, she continued to paint. This was reflected in her last paintings, which consist of simple abstract lines and shapes and hearken back to her early charcoal drawings.
LegacyGeorgia O'Keeffe spent eighty years constructing her life as an artist who helped pave the way for the development of modernism in America. She produced over 2000 works that showed the evolution of a true master by creating her own unique style based in the synthesis of formalism and the abstraction of nature. O'Keeffe never acquiesced to trends in the art world; rather she always remained committed to her own personal vision. Her vibrant and dynamic compositions are a prominent part of both national and international museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe is the first museum in the United States dedicated to a female artist.
Below are Georgia O'Keeffe's major influences, and the people and ideas that she influenced in turn.
Arthur Wesley Dow
Years Worked: circa 1907 - 1984
Quotes"I said to myself 'I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me- shadows and ideas so near to me- so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down.' I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught."
"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else."
"It is easier for me to paint it than to write about it and I would so much rather people would look at it than read about it. I see no reason for painting anything that can be put into any other form as well."
"Color is one of the great things in the world that makes life worth living to me and as I have come to think of painting it is my efforts to create an equivalent with paint color for the world, life as I see it."
|Formalism is an approach to interpreting art that emphasises qualities of form - color, line, shape, texture and so forth. Formalists generally argue that these are at the heart of art's value. The belief that form can be detached from content, or subject matter, goes back to antiquity, but it has been particularly important in shaping accounts of modern and abstract art. In recent decades formalism has met with resistance, and a range of other approaches, including social and psychoanalytic, have gained popularity.
ArtStory: Formalism Page
|Arthur Wesley Dow was an American painter, printmaker, photographer and art teacher during the late-19th to early-20th century. His teachings were revolutionary for their time, stressing the imporatance of using basic natural elements in one's art as opposed to simply copying nature.
|Alon Bement was an American teacher and the founder of the Maryland Institute of Art. He was a well known composition instructor who taught at Columbia University, among other schools. Bement's most famous student was Georgia O'Keeffe, who regarded him as a mentor and major influence on her work.
|The French artist Auguste Rodin is often considered the father of modern sculpture. His diverse ouevre includes traditonal styles, strongly allegorical work, and the fragments and textured physicality that are hallmarks of modernism.
ArtStory: Auguste Rodin Page
|A member of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, and later a teacher at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky is best known for his pioneering breakthrough into expressive abstraction in 1913. His work prefigures that of the American Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: Wassily Kandinsky Page
|Alfred Stieglitz was an American photographer who published the pioneering journal Camera Work. His gallery 291 was a locus for modern artists in America.
ArtStory: Alfred Stieglitz Page
|Paul Strand was an American photographer whose portraits, city scenes, and abstract compositions helped define modernist photography in the twentieth century. A friend of photographer Alfred Stieglitz, he was regularly featured in Stieglitz's journal Camera Work and his 291 Gallery.
|Asian Art has exerted a large and complex influence on modern Western art, ranging from nineteenth-century Japonisme to Buddhism, calligraphy, and philosophical ideas important to performance and conceptual art.
|Art Nouveau was a movement that swept through the decorative arts and architecture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Generating enthusiasts throughout Europe, it was aimed at modernizing design and escaping the eclectic historical styles that had previously been popular. It drew inspiration from both organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms with more angular contours.
ArtStory: Art Nouveau Page
|For all its complexities, Modernism is a term applied to late-19th century and 20th century movements - including art, literature, architecture, philosophy, etc. - that promote and postulate the new, free from derivation and historical references. And for the new to be possible, old movements must be altogether adandoned, or in the case of Picasso's Cubism, deconstructed. In these paintings, for example, familair subject matter is taken apart, laid out, and thus seen from an entirely new perspective.
|Judy Chicago is an American feminist artist and author. Originally associated with the Minimalist movement of the 1960s, Chicago soon abandoned this in favor of creating content-based art. Her most famous work to date is the installation piece The Dinner Party (1974-79), an homage to women's history.
ArtStory: Judy Chicago Page
|Andy Warhol was an American Pop artist best known for his prints and paintings of consumer goods, celebrities, and photographed disasters. One of the most famous and influential artists of the 1960s, he pioneered compositions and techniques that emphasized repetition and the mechanization of art.
ArtStory: Andy Warhol Page
|American Modernist Painting began to coalesce with the Armory Show of 1913, and lasted through the Great Depression. American modernists were diverse, including Precisionists, scene painters, and abstractionists, and looked both to Europe and to homegrown styles for their influence.
|Precisionism was an American art movement in the first half of the nineteenth century. Influenced by the planar divisions in Cubism, artists like Stuart Davis and Charles Demuth used precise lines and abstracted planes to depict vernacular architecture and the industrial landscape.