O’Keeffe was an American painter of the 20th century and a pioneer of American modernism, best known for her compositions’ representations of flowers, skyscrapers, and animal skulls. She conveyed the integrity of her Modernist vision, independence, and, above all, her profound sensitivity to the vitality of nature through her consistently provocative and distinctive approach to image-making.
On November 15, 1887, she was born the second of seven children and grew up on a farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. By the time she graduated from high school in 1905, Georgia O’Keeffe was determined to become an artist. She studied traditional painting at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York. She changed the direction of her artistic practice dramatically four years later when she studied Arthur Wesley Dow’s revolutionary ideas. In contrast to conventional ways of thinking about art, Dow provided O’Keeffe with a fresh perspective. During her time teaching art in West Texas, she experimented with abstraction. She developed a personal language through a series of abstract charcoal drawings to better express her feelings and ideas.
She mailed some of these highly abstract drawings to a friend in New York City. O’Keeffe’s friend introduced them to Alfred Stieglitz, the art dealer and renowned photographer who would eventually marry her. Stieglitz was the first to exhibit her paintings in 1916. She was known for painting New York skyscrapers, synonymous with modernity, as well as her equally radical depictions of flowers by the mid-1920s when she became one of America’s most essential and successful artists. O’Keeffe made the first of many trips to northern New Mexico in the summer of 1929. The stark landscape and Native American and Hispanic cultures of the region inspired O’Keeffe’s art. During the next two decades, she spent most of her summers in New Mexico. In 1949, three years after Stieglitz’s death, she made the state her permanent residence.
The paintings that O’Keeffe painted of New Mexico coincided with a growing interest by American Modernists in regional scenes. O’Keeffe began traveling internationally in the 1950s. She painted and sketched works that evoked spectacular places, including Peru’s mountain peaks and Japan’s Mount Fuji. When she was seventy-three, she took up a new subject: aerial views of clouds and the sky. O’Keeffe painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972 when she was suffering from macular degeneration and failing vision. Despite her sight loss, O’Keeffe’s desire to create did not diminish. In 1977, at age ninety, she observed:
I can see what I want to paint. The thing that makes you want to create is still there.
Despite being nearly blind, she enlisted the assistance of several assistants to continue creating art. In these works, she used her vivid imagery and memories to illustrate her favorite themes. Georgia O’Keeffe died in Santa Fe on March 6, 1986, at the age of 98.
Below are some stunning portrait photos of Georgia O’Keeffe from her life.