Search the Collections

Georgia O'Keeffe
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Santa Fe, New Mexico
One of the foremost painters in 20th-century American art, Georgia O’Keeffe’s works had a profound effect on American modernism. She closely observed forms in nature of all kinds, from skulls and other animal bones, flowers and plant organs and the patio of her Abiquiu home to distant mountains. These she delineated with probing and subtly rhythmic outlines and delicately modulated washes of clear color. Over her long career she created some 900 paintings, about a thousand works on paper, and numerous sculptures. O’Keeffe was born on a farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in 1887. She recalled wanting to be an artist as a child. After her family moved to Virginia in 1901 and she graduated from high school, she enrolled in the school of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905. In 1907 she moved to New York City and studied under William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) at the Art Students League. After working as a commercial artist in Chicago for a few years she embarked on a career of teaching art at schools and colleges, first in in Virginia where she took drawing classes at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, under Alon Bement. He convinced her to attend Teachers College at Columbia University, where she studied under Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) during the 1914-15 academic year. While teaching art at Columbia College in South Carolina the following academic year, she created a set of abstract charcoal drawings, which she sent to Anita Pollitzer (1894-1975), a Teachers College classmate, who showed them to the photographer and gallerist Alfred Steiglitz (1864-1946). He exhibited them in his 291 Gallery in 1916, and mounted a one-person show of O’Keeffe’s work in 1917. The following year he convinced her to leave teaching in Texas and move to New York. They fell in love, lived together and were married in 1924. They divided their time between New York and the Steiglitz family summer home in Lake George, NY. Steiglitz promoted her art works vigorously, displaying her work in 22 solo exhibitions and several group exhibitions in his galleries. She was also a favorite model; he created about 500 photographs of her. O’Keeffe began painting and drawing views of New York skyscrapers in the early 1920s; one such drawing from 1926 is in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums. She began to create large-scale, close-up views of flowers in 1924, which became famous. In 1929 O’Keeffe took a lengthy trip to Taos, New Mexico, where she stayed with the wealthy art collector Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879-1962). O’Keeffe continued to take long trips to New Mexico nearly every year for the next two decades, returning to New York with the products of her summer’s work. She bought a house at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico in 1940, and a compound dating to Spanish-colonial times in Abiquiu, NM in 1945. She spent four years restoring the house. The Art Institute of Chicago presented a retrospective exhibition of her art in 1943. Steiglitz died in 1946; after settling his estate and donating portions of his large art collection to several museums, O’Keeffe moved to Abiquiu in 1949, spending summers at Ghost Ranch and winters in her adobe Abiquiu home. She found inspiration in the landscape, bleached bones, desert features and aspects of her homes, painting some thirty works inspired by her Abiquiu patio. She traveled internationally for three decades from the 1950s, finding inspiration in views from airplanes. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York mounted a retrospective exhibition of her work in 1970. She published an autobiography illustrated with her work in 1976. In the 1970s O’Keeffe’s vision became limited by macular degeneration and she was unable to paint, but continued to draw until 1982 and make pottery until 1984. O’Keeffe received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, the National Medal of Arts in 1985, an award for lifetime achievement from Radcliffe College in 1983 and honorary degrees from Columbia, Harvard, Mount Holyoke and William & Mary. She moved to Santa Fe in 1984 and passed away there in 1986 at the age of 98. (Rev. TNB 1/2014) Selected bibliography: Coe, Erin B., Gwendolyn Owens and Bruce Robertson. Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George. Exhibition catalog. Glen Falls, N.Y.: The Hyde Collection, 2013. Fine, Ruth E. and Barbara Buhler Lynes. O’Keeffe on Paper. Exhibition catalog. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2000. Haskell, Barbara, ed. Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction. Exhibition catalog. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art; Washington, D.C.: The Phillips Collection; Santa Fe: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.