Georgia O'Keeffe

A storyteller with a paintbrush

Her Life

Georgia O'Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin as the second of seven kids. Her mom gave her art lessons at home when she was a kid. Growing up, her teachers recognized her talent. By the time she graduated high school in the start of the twentieth century, O'Keeffe knew what she was going to do with her life: she was going to be an artist.

O'Keeffe went to college at The Art Institute of Chicago and The Art Students League, New York, where she perfected her techniques and won the League's William Merritt Chase still life award in 1908 for her oil painting "Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot" (O'Keeffe had a habit of naming her paintings very literally). Afterwards, however, she decided to give up art, saying she knew she could never achieve fame in her art.

Below: Georgia O'Keeffe's award winning "Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot"

Her interests in art were rekindled four years later when she took a summer course for art teachers at UVA, which introduced her to the idea that art was expressing the artist's personal feelings or ideas. A man named Alfred Stieglitz displayed O'Keeffe's artwork in his famous avant-garde gallery. He did an one-artist exhibit of Georgia O'Keeffe's works, then later offered her financial support to paint for a year in New York, to which she accepted. Six years later, they got married and lived and worked together in New York at Lake George until Georgia O'Keeffe spent her very first summer in New Mexico painting in 1929. There would be many more to come after that.

"At last, a woman on paper." ~Alfred Stieglitz (said this when he first saw O'Keeffe's artwork)

Georgia's painting career had really started getting bigger by that point. Stieglitz focused on Georgia's artwork and organizing exhibits for her art at museums. In the mid-20s, she started to paint New York skyscrapers as well as (what she is most famous for today) her close ups of flowers.

"I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty." ~Georgia O'Keeffe

A few years later, Stieglitz had a very public affair with another lady, which devastated O'Keeffe, causing her to have a nervous breakdown in 1932 and not paint for the next year and a half. Afterwards she was embarrassed to be in New York, so she spent much more time down in New Mexico and eventually moved there after Stieglitz's death in 1946. In 1970, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City had a major O'Keeffe exhibit, which introduced her to a new generation. In 1985, President Reagan awarded her the national medal of arts. She died a year later at 98 years old in New Mexico.

Contributions to our culture

Georgia O'Keeffe not only broke down barriers as a female artist, but she paved the road for so many ahead with her style of painting. Her big, bold colors and shapes; the realistic close-ups-- they had never been done before. She stood by her passion and worked hard on it and for it her whole life, and in the end Georgia O'Keeffe changed the way art is today. Without her, would modern art be bright and colorful? Would we even know what a close-up is? Through her fantastic flowers, spectacular skies, her lovely leaves, and iron will, O'Keeffe shaped modern art.

Then vs. Now

I think a modern "O'Keeffe" would be Boyan Dimitrov. His paintings are usually of flowers or waterways (natural things, like O'Keeffe), uses bright colors, and paints realistically. He also uses oil paints, which was her most common medium.

Below are a few of O'Keeffe's over 2,029 paintings!

fun facts about georgia o'keeffe

  • Of her 2,029 paintings, over 200 were of flowers.
  • In 1928, six of her calla lily paintings sold for $25,000, which was the most money ever spent on a group of paintings by an American artist who was living at the time.
  • In 1976, her autobiography Georgia O'Keeffe was a bestseller.
  • In the 70s she did work in clay, pencil, and watercolor.
  • She loved to travel and once rode down the Colorado River in a rubber raft and also flew around the world!