Georgia O’Keeffe was an American artist who was the leading figure of the artistic and cultural movement American Modernism, which started at the turn of the twentieth century. She is known for her revolutionary paintings especially those of enlarged flowers and for changing the gender balance in the art scene of the United States. Here are 10 interesting facts about the Mother of American Modernist Art.
#1 She wanted to be an artist since she was a child
Born on November 15, 1887 to dairy farmers Francis Calyxtus O’Keeffe and Ida O’Keeffe, Georgia was the second of seven children. She was named after her mother’s father, George Victor Totto, who was a Hungarian count. She decided to become an artist when she was just 10 years old. From 1905 to 1906 she studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1908, at the Art Students League, she won the still-life prize for her work Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot.
#2 She quit art for four years but Wesley Dow inspired her to paint again
By the end of 1908, Georgia left pursuing the career of an artist as she thought she could never distinguish herself as an artist with what she was learning. After four years she attended a class where she was introduced to the innovative ideas of influential arts educator Arthur Wesley Dow by Alon Bement. This inspired her to paint again. She later took classes from Wesley Dow while attending the Teachers College of Columbia University. Dow had a great influence on her and changed the way she thought about the process of creating art.
#3 Alfred Stieglitz was instrumental in making her famous at a young age
In January 1916, famous photographer and art promoter Alfred Stieglitz saw a portfolio of drawings by Georgia O’Keeffe. He was so taken by her art that he exhibited 10 of her drawings at the 291 art gallery without informing Georgia. She came to know about it through a friend and confronted Stieglitz, but agreed to keep the drawings on display. Stieglitz launched her in the modern-art scene and by mid 1920s Georgia was one of America’s leading artists. In 1928, six of her calla lily paintings sold for $25,000.
#4 Georgia O’Keeffe married Stieglitz in 1924
By 1918 O’Keeffe and Stieglitz were involved in a romantic relationship despite Stieglitz being married and 23 years senior to O’Keeffe. Stieglitz’s wife Emmy caught him taking nude photographs of O’Keeffe in their family apartment which led to their starting a live-in relationship. Six years later in 1924, Stieglitz’s divorce was finally approved and within four months he married O’Keeffe. The couple stayed together until Stieglitz’s death at the age of 82 in 1946.
#5 Her most well-known paintings are of enlarged flowers
O’Keeffe’s most famous works are the numerous paintings of flowers that she painted from 1920s on and off to 1950s. These paintings provide a dramatically large, sensual close-up of the flowers as if they are being seen through a magnifying lens. She wrote in 1939, “Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small. We haven’t time”. Many people believe that these paintings were a veiled representation of the female flesh. Georgia denied these accusations and claimed she was simply painting what she saw.
#6 She has portrayed New Mexico extensively in her paintings
Georgia O’Keeffe made her first proper trip to New Mexico in 1929. From that year onwards she spent part of nearly every year working in New Mexico till 1949, the year in which she moved there permanently. The varicolored cliffs of Ghost Ranch, where she bought her house, inspired some of her most famous landscapes. Apart from her numerous paintings of the local landscape and architecture, the tribal aesthetic and cultural traditions in New Mexico became integral to O’Keeffe’s art.
#7 Georgia O’Keeffe is known as the Mother of American Modernism
American Modernism is an artistic and cultural movement which began in the twentieth century and peaked between the two World Wars. It was marked by a deliberate departure from tradition and use of innovative forms of expression keeping with the sociocultural evolution. Georgia O’Keeffe became the leading figure in American Modernism by challenging the boundaries of American artistic style with her paintings, which combined abstraction and representation. She is in fact known as the Mother of American Modernism.
#8 She wrote an autobiography and participated in a film
In 1972, failing eyesight forced O’Keeffe to abandon oil painting, except with assistance. In 1973 she hired sculptor Juan Hamilton. Soon he became her friend and business manager. With his help she completed her autobiography, Georgia O’Keeffe (1976), and participated in a film about her life and art, Georgia O’Keeffe (1977). Hamilton also taught her to work with clay and assisted her in producing clay pots and a series of works in watercolor. Despite her eyesight, Georgia continued working independently in charcoal, pastel, and pencil until 1984, when failing health forced her to move to Santa Fe. She died there on March 6, 1986, at the age of 98.
#9 Her favorite subject was a table mountain visible from her house at Ghost Ranch
Cerro Pedernal is a narrow table mountain in New Mexico which is visible from the front door of O’Keeffe’s house. It was a favorite subject of for O’Keeffe and it appears in 28 of her paintings. She once said, “I painted it often enough thinking that, if I did so, God would give it to me.” After her death, her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered to the wind at the top of Cerro Pedernal, just as she had wished.
#10 She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977
In 1977, Georgia O’Keeffe was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States. In 1985, she was also awarded the prestigious National Medal of Arts. 12 years after her death in 1996, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 32 cent stamp honoring her. Georgia O’Keeffe remains highly significant in influencing the gender balance in the artistic scene. She is one of the most important painters of the twentieth century and remains one of America’s most celebrated icons. She is also considered by many as the greatest ever female painter of the United States.