A look at the woman who inspired generations of artists and paved the way for abstract art.
Reporter: Chloe Chapman | Sub-Editor: Cecilia Peruzzi
On November 15, 1887, one of the most influential and captivating artists of the 20th Century was born. Georgia O’Keeffe was the second of seven children, growing up on a farm in Wisconsin.
During the years, she developed a love affair with art and nature, ultimately attending the Art Institute of Chicago, where she spent a year between 1905 and 1906, followed by the Art Students League in New York from 1907 to 1908.
It was in New York that O’Keeffe was taught the techniques of traditional realist painting, under the guidance of revered art teachers such as William Merritt Chase and F. Luis Mora.
In 1912, O’Keeffe discovered the works of Arthur Wesley Dow – it was then that her artistic style took a different turn. Dow’s creative use of design and composition seduced O’Keeffe, offering an exciting alternative to traditional realism.
She spent two years of experimenting with this style alongside teaching art in South Carolina and Texas, after which she produced a series of abstract charcoal drawings in 1915. This set her apart from her peers at the time, being one of the first American artists to create purely abstract art.
After mailing some of these drawings to her friend Alfred Stieglitz, art dealer and renowned photographer, in New York in 1916, he became the first to exhibit her work. His appreciation of her work continued and they later married.
During a trip to New Mexico in 1929,O’Keeffe was inspired by its landscape, distinct indigenous art and the adobe architecture. This was the first of several trips to the area and, three years after her husband’s death, she moved to the state permanently.
Her paintings of the area captured the attention of American Modernists, who were after an unique representation of America. She painted the mountainous and desert landscape around her, exploring the use of colour and composition to create a personal reflection of what she saw.
After travelling to several states in America, in the 1950s she dared to travel internationally. These trips filled O’Keeffe with motivation to keep creating, travelling as far as Peru and Japan and, at the age of 73, she created a new series, featuring the clouds in the sky and the rivers beneath them.
Sadly, as O’Keeffe aged she began suffering from macular degeneration, which eventually inhibited her from painting her own work. Her last unassisted painting was in 1972 and was entitled Beyond.
However, this wasn’t the end of O’Keeffe’s love affair with art. At the age of 90 she said “I can see what I want to paint. The thing that makes you want to create is still there”.
Despite being virtually blind, O’Keeffe was able to create once more after enlisting the help of several assistants. She drew inspiration from her memory and vivid imagination.
She died aged 98 on March 6 1986, after an incredible artistic career spanning seven decades. Georgia O’Keeffe was a pioneer of distinct, abstract art and her work has gone on to inspire generations of artists.
More than 500 examples of her paintings can be found in over 100 public collections across Europe, Asia and North and Central America as well as in numerous solo and group exhibitions across the globe.
To this day, her painting Jimson Weed/ White Flower No.1 (1932) remains the most expensive artwork sold by a female artist, going for $44.4 million at auction.