Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most significant and intriguing artists of the twentieth century, known internationally for her boldly innovative art. Her distinct flowers, dramatic cityscapes, glowing landscapes, and images of bones against the stark desert sky are iconic and original contributions to American Modernism.
Born on November 15, 1887, the second of seven children, Georgia Totto O’Keeffe grew up on a farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905-1906 and the Art Students League in New York in 1907-1908. Under the direction of William Merritt Chase, F. Luis Mora, and Kenyon Cox she learned the techniques of traditional realist painting. The direction of her artistic practice shifted dramatically in 1912 when she studied the revolutionary ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow.
Dow’s emphasis on composition and design offered O’Keeffe an alternative to realism. She experimented for two years, while she taught art in South Carolina and west Texas. Seeking to find a personal visual language through which she could express her feelings and ideas, she began a series of abstract charcoal drawings in 1915 that represented a radical break with tradition and made O’Keeffe one of the very first American artists to practice pure abstraction.
O’Keeffe mailed some of these highly abstract drawings to a friend in New York City, who showed them to Alfred Stieglitz. An art dealer and internationally known photographer, he was the first to exhibit her work in 1916. He would eventually become O’Keeffe’s husband. By the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe was recognized as one of America’s most important and successful artists, known for her paintings of New York skyscrapers—an essentially American image of modernity—as well as flowers.
In the summer of 1929, O’Keeffe made the first of many trips to northern New Mexico. The stark landscape, distinct indigenous art, and unique regional style of adobe architecture inspired a new direction in O’Keeffe’s artwork. For the next two decades she spent part of most years living and working in New Mexico. She made the state her permanent home in 1949, three years after Stieglitz’s death. O’Keeffe’s New Mexico paintings coincided with a growing interest in regional scenes by American Modernists seeking a distinctive view of America. Her simplified and refined representations of this region express a deep personal response to the high desert terrain.
In the 1950s, O’Keeffe began to travel internationally. She created paintings that evoked a sense of the spectacular places she visited, including the mountain peaks of Peru and Japan’s Mount Fuji. At the age of seventy-three she embarked on a new series focused on the clouds in the sky and the rivers below.
Suffering from macular degeneration and discouraged by her failing eyesight, O’Keeffe painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972. But O’Keeffe’s will to create did not diminish with her eyesight. 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.”
Late in life, and almost blind, she enlisted the help of several assistants to enable her to again create art. In these works she returned to favorite visual motifs from her memory and vivid imagination.
Georgia O’Keeffe died in Santa Fe, on March 6, 1986, at the age of 98.
The art of Georgia O’Keeffe has been well known for eight decades in this country and for many years has been attaining similar prominence abroad. More than 500 examples of her works are in over 100 public collections in Asia, Europe, and North and Central America. In addition, since her work was first exhibited in New York in 1916, it has been included in hundreds of solo and group exhibitions organized around the world.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum cares for a growing collection of artwork by O’Keeffe, including nearly 150 oil paintings, nearly 700 sketches, and important pastels, watercolors, and charcoals. Our collections also include O’Keeffe’s personal property, including her art materials, and a significant archive of documentation and photography of her life and times.
Georgia O’Keeffe owned two homes in the Chama River valley north of Santa Fe. She bought the first one at the Ghost Ranch in 1940 and the second one in the village of Abiquiu in 1945. In both places, she made the homes her own, suited to her art and life and she occupied both until 1984, when she moved to Santa Fe. The Museum owns and preserves these historic properties. The Abiquiu Home and Studio is open for tours by appointment.
Approximately 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe, the Ghost Ranch house is surrounded by the stunning landscape that inspired her art for more than 40 years. Owned and cared for by the Museum, the Ghost Ranch home is not currently open to the public.
The 5,000-square-foot compound in Abiquiu was in ruins in 1945 when she first saw it. For the next four years, O’Keeffe supervised its restoration, which was carried out by her friend, Maria Chabot. The house was surrounded by a wall which enclosed a large irrigated garden, allowing her to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. At the center of the home was a patio with a large wooden door, which excited the artist’s imagination and motivated her to buy the property. To obtain a view of the Chama River Valley, O’Keeffe converted a stable and buggy house at the edge of the mesa into her studio and bedroom. With the addition of plate glass windows, O’Keeffe gained spectacular views of the ever-changing color of the cottonwood trees below and the road that meandered through the valley.
She moved from New York to make New Mexico permanently in 1949, and lived at either Abiquiu or Ghost Ranch until 1984, when she moved to Santa Fe.
You can see more about Artist Georgia O’keeffe at her museum at: Georgia O’keeffe Museum