Georgia O’Keeffe 1887 – 1986

Georgia O’Keeffe, was an American artist. She was best known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes. O’Keeffe has been recognized as the “Mother of American modernism”.

O’Keeffe was the second of seven children. She attended Town Hall School in Sun Prairie. By age ten she had decided to become an artist, and she and her sister received art instruction from local watercolourist Sara Mann.

O’Keeffe studied and ranked at the top of her class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1905 to 1906, studying with John Vanderpoel. Due to typhoid fever, she had to take a year off from her education. In 1907, she attended the Art Students League in New York City, where she studied under William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox and F. Luis Mora. In 1908, she won the League’s William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot.

In 1908, O’Keeffe found out that she would not be able to finance her studies. Her father had gone bankrupt and her mother was seriously ill with tuberculosis. She also was not interested in creating a career as a painter based upon the mimetic tradition which had formed the basis of her art training. She took a job in Chicago as a commercial artist and worked there until 1910, when she returned to Virginia to recuperate from a case of the measles and later moved with her family to Charlottesville.

O’Keeffe began creating simplified images of natural things, such as leaves, flowers, and rocks. Inspired by Precisionism, The Green Apple, completed in 1922, depicts her notion of simple, meaningful life. O’Keeffe said that year, “it is only by selection, by elimination, and by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.” Blue and Green Music expresses O’Keeffe’s feelings about music through visual art, using bold and subtle colours.

O’Keeffe, most famous for her depiction of flowers, made about 200 flower paintings, which by the mid-1920s were large-scale depictions of flowers, as if seen through a magnifying lens, such as Oriental Poppies. In 1925, O’Keeffe began a series of paintings of the city skyscrapers and skyline. One of her most notable works, which demonstrates her skill at depicting the buildings in the Precisionist style, is the Radiator Building—Night, New York.

Due to exhaustion and poor health, she did not work from late 1932 until about the mid-1930s. She was a popular and reputed artist. She received a number of commissions and her works were exhibited in New York and other places. In 1936, she completed what would become one of her most well-known paintings, Summer Days, in 1936. It depicted a desert scene with a deer skull with vibrant wildflowers. Resembling Ram’s Head with Hollyhock, it depicted the skull floating above the horizon.

O’Keeffe became increasingly frail in her late 90s. She moved to Santa Fe in 1984, where she died on March 6, 1986 at the age of 98. Her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered, as she wished, on the land around Ghost Ranch.

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