Oops, it’s Day 96 and I got sucked into Game of Thrones this evening and hanging out with friends that I’m getting my blog done a little late. Please join me in celebrating Georgia O’Keeffe today!
Georgia Totto O’Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986) was an American artist.
Born near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, O’Keeffe first came to the attention of the New York art community in 1916. She made large-format paintings of enlarged blossoms, presenting them close up as if seen through a magnifying lens, and New York buildings, most of which date from the same decade. Beginning in 1929, when she began working part of the year in Northern New Mexico—which she made her permanent home in 1949—O’Keeffe depicted subjects specific to that area. O’Keeffe has been recognized as the Mother of American Modernism.
Georgia O’Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887, in a farmhouse near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her parents, Francis Calyxtus O’Keeffe and Ida (Totto) O’Keeffe, were dairy farmers. Her father was of Irish descent. Her mother’s father, George Victor Totto, for whom Georgia O’Keeffe was named, was a Hungarian count who came to America in 1848.
Georgia was the second of seven O’Keeffe children, and the first daughter. O’Keeffe 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 watercolorist Sara Mann. O’Keeffe 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 the close-knit neighborhood of Peacock Hill in Williamsburg, Virginia. Georgia stayed in Wisconsin with her aunt and attended Madison High School, then joined her family in Virginia in 1903. She completed high school as a boarder at Chatham Episcopal Institute in Virginia (now Chatham Hall), and graduated in 1905. She was a member of Kappa Delta.
O’Keeffe studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1905 to 1906. In 1907, she attended the Art Students League in New York City, where she studied under William Merritt Chase. In 1908, she won the League’s William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting 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, O’Keeffe attended an exhibition of Rodin’s watercolors at the 291, owned by her future husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz.
O’Keeffe abandoned the idea of pursuing a career as an artist in the fall of 1908, claiming that she could never distinguish herself as an artist within the mimetic tradition, which had formed the basis of her art training. She took a job in Chicago as a commercial artist. She did not paint for four years, and said that the smell of turpentine made her sick. 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 innovative ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow by Alon Bement. Dow encouraged artists to express themselves using line, color, and shading harmoniously. From 1912-14, she taught art in the public schools in Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle.
She attended Teachers College of Columbia University from 1914–15, where she took classes from Dow, who greatly influenced O’Keeffe’s thinking about the process of making art. She served as a teaching assistant to Bement during the summer from 1913–16 and taught at Columbia College, Columbia, South Carolina in the fall of 1915, where she completed a series of highly innovative charcoal abstractions. After further course work at Columbia in the spring of 1916 and summer teaching for Bement, she took a job as head of the art department at West Texas State Normal College from fall 1916 to February 1918, the fledgling West Texas A&M University in Canyon just south of Amarillo. While there, she often visited the Palo Duro Canyon, making its forms a subject in her work.
Early in 1916, Anita Pollitzer took some of the charcoal drawings O’Keeffe had made in the fall of 1915, which she had mailed to Pollitzer from South Carolina, to Alfred Stieglitz at his 291 gallery. He told Pollitzer that the drawings were the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while”, and that he would like to show them. O’Keeffe had first visited 291 in 1908, but did not speak with Stieglitz then, although she came to have high regard for him and to know him in the spring of 1916, when she was in New York at Teachers College. In April 1916, he exhibited ten of her drawings at 291. Although O’Keeffe knew that Stieglitz was planning to exhibit her work, he had not told her when, and she was surprised to learn that her work was on view; she confronted Stieglitz over the drawings but agreed to let them remain on exhibit. Stieglitz organized O’Keeffe’s first solo show at 291 in April 1917, which included oil paintings and watercolors completed in Texas.
Stieglitz and O’Keeffe corresponded frequently beginning in 1916, and in June 1918, she accepted Stieglitz’s invitation to move to New York to devote all of her time to her work. The two were deeply in love, and shortly after her arrival, they began living together, even though the then-married Stieglitz was 23 years her senior. That year Stieglitz first took O’Keeffe to his family home at the village of Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, and they spent part of every year there until 1929, when O’Keeffe spent the first of many summers painting in New Mexico. In 1924 Stieglitz’s divorce was finally approved by a judge, and within four months he and O’Keeffe married. It was a small, private ceremony at John Marin’s house, and afterward the couple went back home. There was no reception, festivities or honeymoon. O’Keeffe said later that they married in order to help soothe the troubles of Stieglitz’s daughter Kitty, who at that time was being treated in a sanatorium for depression and hallucinations. The marriage did not seem to have any immediate effect on either Stieglitz or O’Keeffe; they both continued working on their individual projects as they had before. For the rest of their lives together, their relationship was, as biographer Benita Eisler characterized it,
“a collusion … a system of deals and trade-offs, tacitly agreed to and carried out, for the most part, without the exchange of a word. Preferring avoidance to confrontation on most issues, O’Keeffe was the principal agent of collusion in their union.”
Stieglitz started photographing O’Keeffe when she visited him in New York to see her 1917 exhibition. By 1937, when he retired from photography, he had made more than 350 portraits of her. Most of the more erotic photographs were made in the 1910s and early 1920s. In February 1921, forty-five of Stieglitz’s photographs, including many of O’Keeffe, some of which depicted her in the nude, were exhibited in a retrospective exhibition at the Anderson Galleries that created a public sensation. A remark she once made to Pollitzer about the nude photographs may be the best indication of O’Keeffe’s ultimate reaction to being their subject. She said,”I felt somehow that the photographs had nothing to do with me personally.” In 1978, she wrote about how distant from them she had become:”When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me-some of them more than sixty years ago-I wonder who that person is. It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives. If the person in the photographs were living in this world today, she would be quite a different person-but it doesn’t matter-Stieglitz photographed her then.”
Beginning in 1918, O’Keeffe came to know the many early American modernists who were part of Stieglitz’s circle of artists, including Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand and Edward Steichen. Strand’s photography, as well as that of Stieglitz and his many photographer friends, inspired O’Keeffe’s work. Also around this time, O’Keeffe, like so many others, became sick during the 1918 flu pandemic, but survived. Soon after 1918, O’Keeffe began working primarily in oil, a shift away from having worked primarily in watercolor in the earlier 1910s. By the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe began making large-scale paintings of natural forms at close range, as if seen through a magnifying lens. In 1924 she painted her first large-scale flower painting Petunia, No. 2, which was first exhibited in 1925. She also 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.
O’Keeffe turned to working more representationally in the 1920s in an effort to move her critics away from Freudian interpretations. Her earlier work had been mostly abstract, but works such as Black Iris III (1926) evoke a veiled representation of female genitalia while also accurately depicting the center of an iris. O’Keeffe consistently denied the validity of Freudian interpretations of her art, but fifty years after it had first been interpreted in that way, many prominent feminist artists assessed her work similarly—in essential terms—such as Judy Chicago, who gave O’Keeffe a prominent place in her The Dinner Party. Although 1970s feminists celebrated O’Keeffe as the originator of “female iconography”, O’Keeffe rejected their celebration of her work and refused to cooperate with any of their projects.
In 1922, the New York Sun published an article quoting O’Keeffe: “It is only by selection, by elimination, and by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.” Inspired by Precisionism, The Green Apple, completed in 1922, depicts her notion of simple, meaningful life.
Beginning in 1923, Stieglitz organized annual exhibitions of O’Keeffe’s work. By the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe had become known as one of the most important American artists. Her work commanded high prices; in 1928, Stieglitz masterminded a sale of six of her calla lily paintings for US$25,000, which was the largest sum ever paid for a group of paintings by a living American artist. Though the sale fell through, Stieglitz’s promotion of the potential sale drew extensive media attention.
In 1972, O’Keeffe’s eyesight was compromised by macular degeneration, leading to the loss of central vision and leaving her with only peripheral vision. She stopped oil painting without assistance in 1972, but continued working in pencil and charcoal until 1984. Juan Hamilton, a young potter, appeared at her ranch house in 1973 looking for work. She hired him for a few odd jobs and soon employed him full-time. He became her closest confidante, companion, and business manager until her death. Hamilton taught O’Keeffe to work with clay, and working with assistance, she produced clay pots and a series of works in watercolor. In 1976, she wrote a book about her art and allowed a film to be made about her in 1977. On January 10, 1977, President Gerald R. Ford presented O’Keeffe with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to American citizens. In 1985, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
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. In accordance with her wishes, her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered to the wind at the top of Pedernal Mountain, over her beloved “faraway”.
Partial biography from wikipedia.
I only put her flower paintings in this blog since that’s what I wanted to paint.
I really wish I did a better job with my tribute today. I got so excited about painting and then halfway through it, the piece didn’t look anything like I wanted it to. By the time I was finished (after trying to improve it a few times), I just didn’t have time to paint another piece. Well, I tried my best and not every one will be a success. Her paintings are just so wonderful that I little piece of me feels like a failed…at least I do it with grace. 🙂 See you tomorrow on day 97!