Georgia O’Keeffe. Evening Star No. III. 1917. Watercolor on paper mounted on board, 8 7/8 × 11 7/8" (22.7 × 30.4 cm). Mr. and Mrs. Donald B. Straus Fund. © 2023 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

In 1959, the artist Georgia O’Keeffe boarded an airplane in the United States and proceeded to travel for several months. Alongside visits to historical sites in Japan, India, and Iran, it was flight that captivated the 72-year-old O’Keeffe. “I’ve been flying a lot lately,” she said in an interview. “I went around the world—and I noticed a surprising number of deserts and wonderful rivers. The rivers actually seem to come up and hit you in the eye.”1 Peering through the plane’s windows, O’Keeffe sketched these rivers on small pieces of paper; after landing, she revisited them in charcoal, rendering their twists and turns with wide bands and narrow stripes of black pigment. Though works like Drawing X (1959) are so simplified as to appear distinct from the rivers that inspired them, O’Keeffe insisted otherwise. “There’s nothing abstract about those pictures,” she stressed. “They are what I saw—and very realistic to me.”2

Over 40 years earlier, it was a different series of charcoal drawings that first garnered O’Keeffe the artistic recognition she sought. While working as an art teacher in South Carolina in fall 1915, she set aside the more conservative lessons of her previous academic training and began to experiment with sweeping lines and curving forms in compositions that she called Specials. “I am starting all over new,” she wrote in October to her friend, Anita Pollitzer. “Have put everything I have ever done away and don’t expect to get any of it out ever again—or for a long time anyway.”3 In No. 12 Special (1916), sweeping strokes of charcoal stretch up the page, their coils inviting—but also resisting—comparisons to spurts of water, wisps of smoke, tendrils of hair, and shoots of vegetation. O’Keeffe sent several of her Specials to Pollitzer, who in turn shared them with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, proprietor of a celebrated contemporary art gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue, in New York. Declaring the drawings the “purest, finest, sincerest things that have entered 291 in a long while,”4 Stieglitz exhibited 10 of them in a group show in 1916 and held an exhibition of O’Keeffe’s work the following year.

After her debut at 291, O’Keeffe persisted in “starting all over new,” exploring what she termed “objectivity” and “abstraction” on paper and canvas. According to the artist, “objectivity” required close, careful observation of the external world, while “abstraction” involved the presentation of internal thoughts, experiences, and ideas. Yet in works like Abstraction Blue (1927), the two categories collide. Lush folds of blue, purple, and pink are bisected by a white shard that tapers to a point at the lower edge of the canvas, its straight edges contrasting with the layered undulations to either side. The composition resembles O’Keeffe’s zoomed-in close-up studies of bones, flowers, leaves, and shells, the magnification of which evokes a medium that interested the artist: photography. However, the colors and shapes of Abstraction Blue are unlike any single object found in the natural world. Indeed, O’Keeffe regarded “objectivity” and “abstraction” as intertwined. “It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract,” she said. “Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense,” with “lines or colors put together so that they say something.” She added, “abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.”5

By the 1930s, O’Keeffe had become renowned for her representations of flowers, whose stems, petals, leaves, and reproductive organs she pictured larger than life size. An Orchid, from 1941, embodies the strategies found across these works. An intricate bloom fills the frame, its petals—in subtle gradations of white, yellow, and green—extending beyond all four borders of the composition. Enlarging and cropping flowers, O’Keeffe can be seen to have channeled the techniques of photographers, such as Paul Strand, with whom she developed friendships. “In a way—nobody sees a flower,” O’Keeffe explained. “Really—it is so small—we haven’t time.” By magnifying these small organisms, she continued, “I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”6 Many critics, however, saw not flowers but O’Keeffe—specifically, her body. “O’Keeffe’s art has been relentlessly equated with the feminine,” the art historian Anne Wagner has written, “and with its inevitable synonyms, the bodily and the sexual.”7 For the artist, though, such “synonyms” were a distraction from the making and viewing of art. “I fancy this all hasn’t much to do with painting,”8 O’Keeffe concluded.

Annemarie Iker, independent scholar, 2022

  1. Georgia O’Keeffe quoted in Katherine Kuh, The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 199-200.

  2. Ibid., 200.

  3. O’Keeffe to Anita Pollitzer, October 1915, in Pollitzer, A Woman on Paper: Georgia O’Keeffe (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), 29.

  4. Stieglitz quoted in Pollitzer to O’Keeffe, January 1915, in Pollitzer, A Woman on Paper, 45.

  5. Georgia O’Keeffe, Georgia O’Keeffe (New York: Viking Press, 1976), n.p.

  6. Georgia O’Keeffe, “About Myself,” in Georgia O’Keeffe: Exhibition of Oils and Pastels (New York: An American Place, 1939), 2.

  7. Anne Wagner, Three Artists (Three Women): Modernism and the Art of Hesse, Krasner, and O’Keeffe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 32.

  8. O’Keeffe, “About Myself,” 3.

Wikipedia entry
Georgia Totto O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986) was an American modernist painter and draftswoman whose career spanned seven decades and whose work remained largely independent of major art movements. Called the "Mother of American modernism", O'Keeffe gained international recognition for her meticulous paintings of natural forms, particularly flowers and desert-inspired landscapes, which were often drawn from and related to places and environments in which she lived. From 1905, when O'Keeffe began her studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, until about 1920, she studied art or earned money as a commercial illustrator or a teacher to pay for further education. Influenced by Arthur Wesley Dow, O'Keeffe began to develop her unique style beginning with her watercolors from her studies at the University of Virginia and more dramatically in the charcoal drawings that she produced in 1915 that led to total abstraction. Alfred Stieglitz, an art dealer and photographer, held an exhibit of her works in 1917. Over the next couple of years, she taught and continued her studies at the Teachers College, Columbia University. She moved to New York in 1918 at Stieglitz's request and began working seriously as an artist. They developed a professional and personal relationship that led to their marriage on December 11, 1924. O'Keeffe created many forms of abstract art, including close-ups of flowers, such as the Red Canna paintings, that many found to represent vulvas, though O'Keeffe consistently denied that intention. The imputation of the depiction of women's sexuality was also fueled by explicit and sensuous photographs of O'Keeffe that Stieglitz had taken and exhibited. O'Keeffe and Stieglitz lived together in New York until 1929, when O'Keeffe began spending part of the year in the Southwest, which served as inspiration for her paintings of New Mexico landscapes and images of animal skulls, such as Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue (1931) and Summer Days (1936). After Stieglitz's death in 1946, she lived in New Mexico for the next 40 years at her home and studio or Ghost Ranch summer home in Abiquiú, and in the last years of her life, in Santa Fe. In 2014, O'Keeffe's 1932 painting Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 sold for $44,405,000—at the time, by far the largest price paid for any painting by a female artist. Her works are in the collections of several museums, and following her death, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum was established in Santa Fe.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
She was born to Francis Calyxtus O'Keeffe and Ida Totto O'Keeffe on a large dairy farm in Wisconsin. She was an American painter, trained in Chicago and New York where she came into contact with modern developments in art, as well as non-western traditions and photography. Her husband, the photographer Alfred Steiglitz showed her work yearly until his death in 1946. O'Keeffe is best known for extreme close-up images of abstracted natural forms, such as flowers, animal bones, clouds, and landscapes. From 1929 she spent most of her summers painting in New Mexico, moving there permanently in 1949. In 1971, she learned to be a hand-potter. Comment on works: Landscapes
Artist, Lecturer, Painter
Georgia O'Keeffe, Georgia O'Keeffe Stieglitz, Georgia Totto O'Keeffe, Mrs. Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keefe, Georgia O' Keeffe, Georgia Stieglitz, O'Keeffe
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


13 works online



  • Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction Blue Paperback, 48 pages
  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Being Modern: Building the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 288 pages
  • Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 376 pages
  • Georgia O'Keeffe pages

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