Perhaps one of the most compelling of 20th-century American artists, Georgia O'Keeffe's representations of the beauty of the American landscape are in direct opposition to those generally embraced by the art world and the public. The stark reality of her painting, with their vibrant colors and scintillating energy have often been copied, but never have the precision and intimacy of her work been captured.
Born the second of seven children in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887 March 6, 1986) aspired to becoming an artist at an early age. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905, and a year later moved to New York to study at the Art Students League. She abandoned fine art for several years, working as a commercial artist in Chicago, and then teaching.
In 1915, O'Keeffe met Oriental Art specialist, Arthur Dow, whom she credited with helping her find her style. Soon after, she sent a small portfolio of charcoal drawings to a friend in New York, who showed them to photographer and gallery owner, Alfred Steiglitz. Steiglitz was very taken with the energy of her work, and decided to show the drawings. And so it was that, without her knowledge, Georgia O'Keeffe had her first exhibition at Steiglitz's "291 Gallery" in 1916.
Within two years, O'Keeffe had moved to New York, and with the support of Steiglitz was devoting her time to painting. Regular showings at the "291 Gallery" were well received, and O'Keeffe developed a following. Six years later, Steiglitz and O'Keeffe married, beginning one of the best-known and prolific collaborations of the modernist era. The two lived and worked together for the next 20 years. O'Keeffe showed her work at the gallery annually, and Steiglitz created a significant body of portraits of O'Keeffe. It was in New York City and Lake George, New York, that O'Keeffe painted some of her most famous works, with her lush flowers and cityscapes among them.
In 1929, O'Keeffe vacationed in Taos, New Mexico, with a friend, where the big sky and sun-drenched landscape forever altered the course of her life. She returned every summer until Steiglitz's death in 1946, and then moved to New Mexico permanently. Her early landscapes have become icons: with rich textured skies and clouds, they bore a similarity to her sensuous flower paintings. But beneath the skies and clouds one found what would become her trademark, bleached bones and skulls of animals long gone.
In the following years, O'Keeffe's fame continued to grow. She traveled the world, and had a number of retrospectives. Her show at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York in 1970, placed her forever as one of the most influential of American painters. A year later, her vision deteriorated dramatically and she stopped painting for several years. In 1977, O'Keeffe was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford, and in 1985, she received the Medal of the Arts from President Ronald Reagan. In March of 1986, O'Keeffe passed away at St. Vincent's Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the age of 98. Today, her work remains an important part of the collections of national and international museums. (~Aimee)
Pictured: Georgia O'Keeffe at her home, Ghost Ranch, in Northern New Mexico