Elegant and innovative: The art of Georgia O’Keeffe


Acknowledged as one of America’s most significant twentieth-century artists, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) is admired around the world for her elegant and innovative modernist paintings.

Photograph: Maria Chabot / Georgia O’Keeffe hitching a ride to Abiquiu with Maurice Grosser 1944 / Contemporary Photographic Print / Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation (RC.2001.002.140e) / Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

O’Keeffe grew up on a farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and as a child received art lessons at home. By the time she graduated from high school in 1905 she was determined to make her way as an artist. She went on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York, where she learned the techniques of traditional realist painting.

Her creative practice shifted dramatically when she was introduced to the progressive ideas of teacher Arthur Wesley Dow, with whom she studied in New York in 1914–15. O’Keeffe subsequently developed a personal vocabulary of forms and shapes in a series of drawings. The renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz exhibited ten of these at his avant-garde gallery ‘291’ in 1916, and a year later presented O’Keeffe’s artwork in a solo exhibition. In 1918 he offered her financial support to paint for a year in New York and they formed a romantic attachment.

Stieglitz and O’Keeffe were married in 1924 and divided their time between the city and Lake George in upstate New York. By the mid 1920s O’Keeffe had achieved notoriety for her groundbreaking abstract paintings and images of enlarged flowers. Stieglitz played a significant role in promoting her, organising annual exhibitions of her work from 1923 until his death in 1946.

Georgia O’Keeffe / Blue Line 1919 / Oil on canvas / Gift of The Burnett Foundation / Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

In the summer of 1929, O’Keeffe made the first of many trips to northern New Mexico. For the next two decades she spent part of most years living and working there until she made it her permanent home in 1949. The stark landscape and unique regional style of adobe architecture inspired a new and sustained direction in O’Keeffe’s artwork.

Georgia O’Keeffe / Pelvis IV 1944 / Oil on canvas / Gift of The Burnett Foundation / Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / © 1987, Private Collection

Suffering from macular degeneration and discouraged by her failing eye sight, O’Keeffe painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972. She died in Santa Fe in 1986, at the age of 98.

Making Modernism’ is at the Queensland Art Gallery until Sunday 11 June 2017, and is accompanied by an exhibition publicationavailable online and in-store from the QAGOMA Store.

The exhibition is presented by the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Victoria, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, and QAGOMA, in partnership with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, and supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Gordon Darling Foundation.