Georgia O’Keeffe, figure of american modernism
Georgia O’Keeffe, figure of american modernism

Georgia O’Keeffe, figure of american modernism


                                                                                                          City night, 1926


Georgia O’Keeffe, the major figure of American modernism in the 20th century! Inspired by photography and the American landscape, Georgia O’Keeffe created works bordering on abstraction, celebrating the United States.
LeZ’ArTs invites you to take a look back at this female precision artist, an emblematic figure in the history of American art!

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 Georgia O’Keeffe photo by Alfred Stieglitz,, 1918, platinotype, 24,5 × 20,1 cm, Art Institute of Chicago. Alfred Stieglitz Collection – © Georgia O’KeeffeMuseum

She found her calling and devoted herself to oil painting, abandoning watercolours, taking her inspiration from natural forms observed at close quarters.
She is also interested in the buildings of New York. Her favourite themes were urban landscapes and skyscrapers, as well as close-ups of flowers, treated on the verge of abstraction. Window on Lake George, in 1929, prefigured the future minimalist research of American art. Stieglitz organised several exhibitions that soon made Georgia O’Keefe one of the best-known artists of the 1920s.


                                 New York’ street under the moon, 1925, oil on canvas (122 × 77 cm),Carmen Thyssen collection

Georgia O’Keeffe emerged in New York at the beginning of the twentieth century, armed with an already singular approach, informed by the art of her time, but free in her expression as in her life. Her strong personality, at a time when women’s independence was poorly accepted, immediately fascinated.

                                                                                          Shelton with Sunspots, 1926

Georgia O’Keeffe was first discovered through the free, loving, fiery photos taken of her by George Stieglitz, himself one of the giants of the invention of modernity in the United States at the turn of the century. Committed, militant and, above all, independent, she moved to New Mexico, where artists and writers had been living for many years as a new Arcadia, and there she built a character and a body of work that freely expressed the power of colour and the importance of painting in expressing the forces of the world that are in flowers, canyons and ourselves.


                                                                                         New-York Radiotor building, 1927

She has become an icon of American modernity, photographed by the greatest artists and painted by Andy Warhol.

                                                                                                      Manhattan 1932


                                                                              Autumn Leaves – Lake George, N.Y., 1924

                                                                 New Mexico.

Georgia Georgia O’Keeffe spent her summers exploring the arid lands north of Santa Fe, until she discovered the Ghost Ranch in 1934. She first rented a cottage on the ranch. She bought a piece of land and a house six years later!
“This is my private mountain”, declared Georgia O’Keeffe, who found the views of the landscapes around her irresistible: “All the earth colours on a painter’s palette are there”.
She represented the Cerro Pedernal, visible from the patio of her house, twenty-four times.
The artist was as passionate about this ancient volcano as Cézanne was about Mont Sainte-Victoire – in fact, his ashes were scattered there after his death. “It’s my private mountain”, she laughs, “God told me that if I painted it well enough, it would belong to me”.
Georgia O’Keeffe was also fascinated by the orange and yellow cliffs of the hills at the back of her property, which also inspired many of her works.


                                                                            Pelvis with the distance, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1943

Geargia O’Keeffe said in 1942: “Such a beautiful, unspoilt and lonely place, such a beautiful part of what I call the ‘Faraway’.”

After Ghos Ranch, Georgia O’Keeffe set her sights on an 18th-century ruin turned towards nature. Unfortunately, this residence in the heart of the desert was not habitable all year round: there was no water and it was impossible to grow anything.
O’Keeffe actively searched for another plot of land in Abiquiú, a few kilometres away, and fell in love with a ruin dating back to the 18th century. Situated at the top of a mesa (or plateau), the plot of almost two hectares offered a bird’s-eye view of the Rio Chama valley, while providing the artist with the comfortable proximity of a village. O’Keeffe was seduced by the adobe house when she discovered its patio among the ruins. The inner courtyard contained a well giving her access to water, a precious and rare resource that would enable her to create a vegetable garden, large enough to ensure her subsistence and that of her visitors.


Ram’s Head, White Hollyhoch-ill, 1935, © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Adagp, Paris, 2021

Cow’s Skull, Red, White and Blue, 1931, oil on canvas, 101,3 × 91,1 cm, Alfred Stieglitz Collec­tion, 1952, New York, Metropo­li­tan Museum of Art, © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / ADAGP, Paris, Photo © The Metropo­li­tan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image of the MMA

Georgia O’Keeffe’s art, which is based on a keen observation of nature, has had a profound impact on modern art, standing apart from the artistic trends of the 20th century.

                                                                             Black Mesa Landscape New Mexico 1930

Moving away from the artistic hustle and bustle of New York and the authoritarian influence of her husband, Georgia O’Keeffe discovered the grandeur and simplicity of the landscapes of New Mexico. Her revelation of the desert was as much artistic as it was spiritual.

“The minute I arrived here, I knew this was where I was going to live”, Georgia O’Keeffe confided when she took her first step in July 1934 at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.


                             Horse skull with white rose 

                                  White and brown cliffs, 1965

In the sixty-odd years she spent there, she tried above all to capture these landscapes. Only the shapes of sun-bleached bones are clearly visible. Or the outline of a door or an adobe house. The rest is a variation of browns and whites, shapes liquefied by the light, flat areas punctuated by spots and cracks.

                                      Bear Lake, New Mexico

Georgia O’Keeffe, Pink Hills, 1937, oil on canvas, 9 x 14 pouces, courtesy of Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Dr. and Mrs. Milton Lurie Kramer, Class of 1936, Collection; Legs de Helen Kroll Kramer, © 2021 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists

She combines the skulls of animals found in the desert with landscapes that evoke the beauty of certain Japanese prints. The light was vaporous and brilliant. Georgia O’Keeffe discovered the beauty of a cloudy sky seen from an aeroplane. Sometimes a storm threatens in the distance. At times, her paintings returned to abstraction.


                                                                                            Red hills, lake George, 1927

A meditative style of painting that she practised until her death at the age of 99, in Santé Fé, on the edge of the desert.

                                                                                                   From the Lake, 1924

                                                       Flowers on the edge of abstraction.

Georgia O’Keeffe is best known for her depictions of flowers!

Her floral illustrations break with the European tradition of still life. The artist depicts all kinds of flowers in monumental close-ups: poppies, camellias, sunflowers, ipomoea, irises, arums, orchids, lilies…

                                                                                         Photo : Alfred Stieglitz

The artist explains:
“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it becomes your world for a moment. I wanted to give that world to someone else.”


Red, Yellow and Black Streak, 1924, oil on canvas, 101,3 ×81,3 cm, Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris. – Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Philippe Migeat/Dist. RMN-GP© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI

Grey, Blue and Black – Pink Circle, 1929, oil on canvas, 91,4 × 121,9 cm – Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

In some canvases, the close-ups are so close that the paintings border on abstraction. It takes a while for the viewer to realise that it’s a flower.


                                                                                                   Oriental Poppies, 1927

This way of illustrating flowers in very close-up also stems from the influence of photography in her artistic practices. The artist was inspired by the “Blow Up” effect in photography, a technique that involves enlarging an image.


           White Iris No.7, 1957, oil on canvas, 102×75,2 cm

                                          Black iris, 1936


Jimson Weed / White Flower No.1, 1932, oil on canvas, 121.90 x 101.60 cm

            Series I – No. 3, 1918, oil on pannel, 50,8×40,6 cm

Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers are unlike any we are used to seeing in paintings, such as still lifes. In other words, the artist is showing us only the flower, which occupies the entire canvas.


                                                                   Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, 1930, oil on canvas, 101,6×76,2 cm

As you can imagine, when these huge canvases of flowers were put on public display, they shocked, disturbed and questioned more than one critic! Faced with these works, art critics immediately drew a formal analogy. They saw in her canvases an erotic dimension, and more specifically the representation of the female sex.

But Georgia O’Keeffe always denied this interpretation, and explained that her intention was not to create works that would allude to female sexuality. She was very offended by this erotic interpretation.

Many critics still continue to interpret her work in this way.


                                                                                  White and Blue Flower Shapes series, 1919.


                                                                                  Georgia O’Keeffe, 1918, photo : Alfred Stieglitz

Georgia O’Keeffe was a fighter, that’s how you could define the American artist. As she passed her 90th birthday, her health began to fail her. She died aged 98.

A museum dedicated to the artist opened in the USA in 1997: the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was inaugurated in Santa Fe 11 years after her death.


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