During her long, productive life, Georgia O’Keeffe became nearly as well known as her distinctive
paintings. She represented, to many people, the popular concept of the isolated, eccentric “artist.” She
lived a spare, often solitary life, and approached both her life and her art in her own unique way.
O’Keeffe was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and spent her childhood on her family’s farm. While in
high school, she had a memorable experience that gave her a new perspective on the art-making process.
As she passed the door to the art room, O’Keeffe stopped to watch as a teacher held up a jack-in-the-
pulpit plant so that the students could appreciate its unusual shapes and subtle colors. Although O’Keeffe
had enjoyed flowers in the marshes and meadows of Wisconsin, she had done all of her drawing and
painting from plaster casts or had copied them from photographs or reproductions. This was the first time
she realized that one could draw and paint from real life. Twenty-five years later she produced a powerful
series of paintings based on flowers.
O’Keeffe studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League in New York, and Columbia
University Teachers College. From Arthur Wesley Dow of Columbia she learned to appreciate Japanese
design, to fill space in a beautiful way, and to balance light and dark. As a student she was also influenced
by the first wave of European abstract paintings to reach the United States from Europe.
From 1912 to 1918, she spent four winters teaching school in the Texas Panhandle. The Southwest
landscape left a strong impression on her and influenced her later decision to move to New Mexico –
where the desert became her favorite subject.
O’Keeffe’s first mature works, produced in 1915, consisted of abstract charcoal drawings suggesting
natural forms and vivid watercolor landscapes. A friend of O’Keeffe’s showed those drawings to
influential photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, who exhibited them in his avant-garde
Gallery 291 in New York. Thus began one of the best-known artistic and romantic liaisons of the
twentieth century. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz were married in 1924, and O’Keeffe’s work was exhibited
annually in various galleries owned by Stieglitz until his death in 1946. They were strong supporters of
one another’s work.
Although associated with American modern artists, O’Keeffe developed her own style, which is both
sensuous and austere. Her paintings of the 1920s include the series of greatly enlarged flowers,
landscapes, and geometrically structured views of New York City. In her mature style, O’Keeffe rejected
realism in favor of simplified flat patterns and color harmonies inspired by Japanese art.
From 1929 to 1949 O’Keeffe spent summers in Taos, New Mexico, surrounded by the desert she loved.