New York with Moon, Georgia O’Keefe, 1925

March 2, 2010

The artist: Although I’ve seen her skulls and dusty New Mexico landscapes, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) still makes me think of enormous flowers, with their strange mix of fit-for-Grandma banality and possibly erotic significance (O’Keeffe always denied it, and since she was perfectly willing to have nude photos of her shown in the 20s, I think it might be the truth and not fear of scandal).  Of course, they’re beautiful pictures, and she’s technically gifted, but it’s nice to see something a little more surprising.  In fact, O’Keeffe’s life was anything but Grandmother-friendly.

Born to Wisconsin dairy farmers, O’Keeffe soon headed to Chicago to study art under William Merritt Chase.  Her works found their way into Alfred Stiglitz’s 291 gallery in New York, and before long he had left his wife for her.  His art-promotion expertise served her well, and by the end of the 20s she was famous and they were married.   During this period, her work focused on the blown-up natural objects she’s famous for.

In the 30s, O’Keeffe discovered New Mexico.  From then on, her work took on the Southwest inspiration that continued for the rest of her career.  When Stiglitz died in 1949, she moved permanently to the region.  While failing eyesight hampered her efforts toward the end of her life, O’Keeffe continued painting until she died at 98.

The painting:

Oil on canvas, 1925, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

This is a woman-power story.  O’Keeffe’s husband discouraged her from showing the painting at his studio when it was first made, saying that “even men found it difficult to paint New York” and she was better sticking to flowers.  The next year, she displayed it at her own show…and it sold the first day for a fat sum of money.  It was to be the first in a short series of similar night cityscapes, all inspired by the Precisionists who formed her circle of friends.


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