How Georgia O’Keeffe Changed American Art

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Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986) was an American artist.

Born near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia O’Keeffe first came to the attention of the New York art community in 1916, several decades after women had gained access to art training in America’s colleges and universities, and before any of its women artists were well known or highly celebrated.

Within a decade, she had distinguished herself as one of America’s most important modern artists, a position she maintained throughout her life.

As a result, Georgia O’Keeffe not only carved out a significant place for women painters in an area of the American art community that had been exclusive to and is still dominated by men, but also she had become one of America’s most celebrated cultural icons well before her death at age 98 in 1986.

In 1923, O’Keeffe began painting flowers and leaves, creating some of her best-known work.

Georgia O'Keeffe

Oriental Poppy by Georgia O’Keeffe. Click the image above to get your own art print of this work by O’Keeffe.

Oriental Poppies and related flower paintings have been seen by some scholars as her response to such modern photographers as Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, who “zoomed in” on and closely cropped their subject in an attempt to discover its core essence.

Georgia O’Keeffe emulates this technique in her compositions.

By creating an over-sized close-up of the poppies and removing them from any discernible context, she abstracts the organic forms into black and red shapes.

By the mid-1920s, Georgia O’Keeffe was recognized as one of the most significant American artists of the time and her art begun to command high prices.

In one of O’Keeffe’s first large- scale renderings of flower, Petunia No.2.,which represents the beginning of her exploration of a theme that would mark her career, she magnifies the flower’s form to emphasize its shape and color.

Her flowers images often received interpretation that O’Keeffe disagreed with, particularly from feminist critics who saw her paintings as veiled illusion to female genitalia.

Shop now for O’Keeffe’s poppy and petunia art prints

For Georgia O’Keeffe, there was no hidden symbolism, just the essence of the flower.

Georgia O'Keeffe

Black and Purple Petunias by Georgia O’Keeffe. Click the image above to get your art print of this masterpiece by O’Keeffe

In addition, the anatomy of the petunia is incredibly detailed, and O’Keeffe may have been emphasizing the androgyny of the reproductive parts in order to counter the idea that her subject matter was connected to her gender.

Around 1929, O’Keeffe fascination with the landscape of New Mexico began, and she became enamored with New Mexico’s landscape of barren land, vistas and local Navajo culture; works produced from this landscape captured the beauty of the desert, its vast skies, distinctive architectural forms, and bones which she collected in the desert.

O’Keeffe’s eventual purchase of two properties in New Mexico further connected her to the land.

Through the precise rendering of the weathered skull’s surface and sharp edges in Cow’s Skull: Red, White and Blue, from 1931, she captures the essential nature of the skull while also referencing the transience of life.

Isolated on canvas, divorced from its desert context, O’Keeffe uses the cow’s skull and the red, white and blue background to represent both naturalism and nationalism, or the relationship between the American landscape and national identity.

Moreover, the subject could allude to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, thereby making an environmental and economic statement; what is clear that O’Keeffe created a memento mori that elevates this relic of the New Mexico desert to the status of an American icon.


In her later years, O’Keeffe suffered from macular degeneration and began to lose her eyesight. As a result of her failing vision, she painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972; her urge to create did not falter.

With the help of assistants, she continued to make art and she wrote the bestselling book Georgia O’Keeffe (1976).

Her last paintings consist of simple abstract lines and shapes and hearken back to her early charcoal drawings.

Georgia O’Keeffe died on March, 6, 1986, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and her ashes were scattered at Cerro Pedernal, which is depicted in several of her paintings.

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Comments

  1. I love Georgia O’Keeffe’s landscape paintings especially. I was privileged to attend an exhibition of her work in Colorado Springs in September 2015. She really was a talented artist. Thanks for featuring her on your website.

    • Gary Bolyer says

      Thanks for your comments. I love Georgia O’Keeffe as well. Have seen here work many times in the NYC art museums.

      • Lindy du Toit says

        I live in a small town called Malmesbury 60 kms north of Cape Town, South Africa. A good friend had me visit for two weeks in September 2015. She lives in Monument, Colorado. Just down the way from Colorado Springs. I was fortunate to be there at the same time as the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit. What a privilege to see it.
        I personally, have been drawing all my life, from as long ago as I can remember. I started using paints in 1982. I learn a lot from other artists, and have good knowledge of paints, mediums, styles. I am in love with watercolours, and they are my go to medium when I want to try out something new. I paint under my maiden name “Flook”.
        You followed me on Twitter, so I went to look on your website to learn about you, and see your paintings. I enjoy your loose style and bright colours. Thank you for following me. I have not seen many of your blogs so cannot comment on them at this time.

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