In the latest years there has been a rediscover of important female historical figures that, despite their extraordinary works have never been properly celebrated.

In this article we are going to have a look at a key art figure of the 20th century.

The great American painter Georgia O’Keeffe

Men put me down as the best woman painter…I think I’m one of the best painters.”

These are the words in which Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) describes herself.

She approached art very early attending important institutions like the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York.

Her formation was surely particular, but it was thanks to the direct experience that she could truly enter the art world.

In 1908, in the gallery of the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864 – 1946) in New York, she could admire the watercolors of Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917) an artist principally know for sculpture.

These works made a deep impression on her and they would influence her future works.

Georgia O’Keeffe painting
Hibiscus with Plumeria (1939)

O’Keeffe’s paintings are highly suggestive

Her depictions of flowers, animals and other natural wonders are brought to life thanks to surprising shapes and colors.

Her work can be divided in phases:

  • the early studies
  • New York period (influenced by Alfred Stieglitz and photography)
  • the New Mexico
  • latest years and the return to abstract

Georgia O’Keeffe was certainly able to develop her style taking inspiration from life experiences and cultural movements of the time.

All of that keeping always a strong passion for life and art.

The years spent in New York were surely a turning point and the abstract oil painting that she made in that period are the most extraordinary of her career.

Because of the sexualization of her abstract works by the critics O’Keeffe reprises painting representational subjects.

What made her famous among the American artist were New York’s architectures and most of all the macroscopic flowers.

Georgia O'Keeffe photography
A picture of Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz

Georgia O’Keeffe relationship with Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz was an American photographer and gallery owner, also well known and celebrated in art history.

The two met thanks to a friend of her, Anna, who took Georgia to the photographer’s gallery “291”.

At the moment of their meeting, Stieglitz is married and 23 years older than her. He was struck by the young and promising painter after receiving a roll of charcoal drawings from Anna.

The step between common passion for art and love is quick and inevitable.

Stieglitz organizes many O’Keeffe’s displays (the first personal in 1917) making her famous among the New York avant-garde. He kept organizing personal displays each year in New York at the Anderson Gallery and in his two galleries, The Intimate Gallery and An American Place until his death in 1946.

In 1918 Georgia O’Keeffe moved to New York invited by Stieglitz and in 1924 they got married.

Very impressive their epistolary exchange, between 1915, the year of their first meeting and 1946. Over 25.000 letters, sometimes more than 40 pages long, revealing an intense passion and mutual respect.

As in many other important love stories, Georgia and Alfred got married, broke up, betrayed each other, but they remained close “as two twins” Stieglitz said.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s hands between art and photography

Alfred Stieglitz took about 300 photographs of her model and wife between 1917 and 1937.

Very famous are some shots portraying the painter’s hands, her working tools, depicted in black and white fascinating compositions.

Georgia’s hands are proper representations of her art.

Alfred Stieglitz - Georgia O'Keeffe Hands, 1919
Alfred Stieglitz – Georgia O’Keeffe Hands, 1919

The connection between Georgia O’Keeffe and photography is very strong

It wasn’t only her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz to bond so much O’Keeffe with this medium.

She has been one of the most photographed women of the 20th century. Photography is for her the most efficient tool to catch in a single image the essence of daily life.

Toward the end of the 1910’s she was struck by the clean lines and the plain surface of a photograph.

This operated a change of perspective within her work: she started refusing short and structured brush strokes she had preferred before.

She started appreciating the details of natural objects that photography gives in the shots of Stieglitz or Edward Steichen (1879 – 1973).

Natural painting by Georgia O'Keeffe
Natural painting by Georgia O’Keeffe

Her paintings have an ambiguous quality: they derive from a vision linked to photography but they are something else, it’s pure evasion and allusion.

Georgia O’Keeffe is a key figure of the 20th century

Despite being known mostly and almost exclusively in the United States, Georgia O’Keeffe deserves more recognition.

Her works are timeless masterpieces.