Georgia O'Keeffe: Paintings & Biography

Instructor: Ninamarie Ochoa
Georgia O'Keeffe, famous for her sensual paintings of magnified flowers, and inspired by the bewitching southwestern American landscape, is among the foremost artists of the twentieth century. Read about this artist's life and work, and then quiz yourself.

Who is Georgia O'Keeffe?

You might not consider the center of a flower inherently sexy, but one look at one of Georgia O'Keeffe's famous paintings might change your mind. Her sensual and intense treatment of subjects ranging from flowers to landscapes and architecture have made O'Keeffe a fixture of American art, and she is considered the mother of American Modernism, which is known for its self-consciousness, alienation, and departure from realism.

Early Life and Education

Georgia O'Keeffe was born 15 November 1887 near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. By the age of ten, she had decided to become a painter, and embarked on an illustrious academic career that included training at The Art Institute of Chicago. By 1908, though, O'Keeffe felt that there was no way she could distinguish herself as an artist, and she ceased painting for four years while living and working in Chicago.

In 1912, O'Keeffe took a summer art class at The University of Virginia, which reawakened her love for painting. For two years after that, until 1914, O'Keeffe taught art at public schools in Amarillo, Texas. She continued her education at Columbia University, where she attended the Teachers College and learned more about producing art.

Artistic Career and Marriage

A series of O'Keeffe's early charcoal works were displayed in New York City in 1916 at the famous 291 Gallery, under the curatorship of owner and renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz. O'Keeffe and Stieglitz formed a close friendship. They began regularly corresponding with one another and soon fell in love, although Stieglitz was still married.

In 1918, O'Keeffe moved to New York to pursue her art full-time at Stieglitz's behest. He soon divorced his wife, and he and O'Keeffe were married in 1924. The pair maintained a solid but detached partnership, often living independently of one another. O'Keeffe expressed this same detachment in regard to the intimate series of photographs that Stieglitz took of her throughout the course of her marriage (numbering over 350 in total), stating that she hardly recognized the woman in the photographs.

Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia OKeefe (Hands) (1918)
Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia OKeefe (Hands) (1918)

During the 1920s, O'Keeffe produced many of the famous large-scale floral paintings for which she is so widely known, which depicted the centers of flowers as though magnified. Most people don't know that, despite the sensual and Freudian interpretation of her works as representations of female genitalia, O'Keeffe herself rejected these analyses. Later, during the rise of second wave feminism in the 1970s, feminist scholars would hail O'Keeffe's flower paintings as icons of femininity. O'Keeffe bristled at this attention, however, and flatly refused to describe her work as feminist art.

Light of Iris (1924)
Georgia OKeeffe, Light of Iris (1924)

In the late 1920s, O'Keeffe sought to escape her surroundings in New York City, and she traveled with a friend to Santa Fe in 1929. She quickly fell in love with the region and its sparse but gorgeous landscape. She moved into her home at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, in 1940.

Ghost Ranch (Abiquiu, NM)
Ghost Ranch (Abiquiu, NM)

Just like the sense of profound simplicity that infuses her paintings, O'Keeffe lived a solitary life at Ghost Ranch, where she would often get in her car and drive through the vast expanses of northern New Mexico, painting its landscapes and collecting artifacts from her explorations.

Rams Head, White Hollyhock-Hills (1935)
Georgia OKeeffe, Rams Head, White Hollyhock-Hills (1935)

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