Happy birthday to the incomparable Georgia O’Keeffe! Today we honor one of the most significant and trailblazing artists to have ever laid hands on a canvas.
Georgia O’Keeffe, born on November 15, 1887, in Sun Prairie (WI), is a painter whose groundbreaking work in modernism and unique approach to capturing the essence of the American landscape have left an indelible mark on the world of modern art. She has, in fact, been called the “Mother of American Modernism.”
Georgia attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and later the Art Students League in New York, where she honed her skills and began to develop her artistic voice. In the 1910s, Georgia worked as a commercial artist and art teacher, but it was in the 1920s that she began to gain recognition for her work. She became associated with the American Precisionist movement, known for its emphasis on geometric shapes and clear lines. However, over the course of her career, Georgia’s work went beyond the strict confines of any one artistic movement. It is her ability to stay true to her unique artistic style that has made her such a distinct and recognizable figure in modern art.
One of Georgia’s most iconic interests was flowers, particularly her close-up paintings of enlarged blossoms. Through her mastery of form, color, and composition, she transformed these small pieces of nature into big, bold, and strikingly sensual abstractions. Her flower paintings demonstrate her ability to capture the natural world in a way that was both true to its realistic form, and at the same time highly stylized. Anyone who has seen Georgia’s art will always recognize her flowers instantly, not only for their distinctive pastel color palettes and striking shapes, but also for the singular emotional impact that they have on the viewer every time.
These shapes, radically different from anything in traditional art teachings, are what make Georgia O’Keeffe the mother of modern art…
In a review of a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), FF2 contributor Catherine Sawoski describes, “These shapes, radically different from anything in traditional art teachings, are what make her the mother of modern art. Their long curves are, in a word, natural – foregrounding Georgia’s connection to the organic, even in watercolors of industrial trains. In these shapes she is able to effortlessly blur the worlds between representation and abstraction, refusing to put her feet solidly on either side.”
Georgia’s depictions of the American Southwest are also central to her legacy. In the 1920s, she visited New Mexico, a place that would profoundly impact her artistic vision. The vast, sweeping landscapes, the vibrant colors, and the contrasting muted tones of the desert became recurring themes in her work. She has become known in particular for her striking depictions of skulls (often cows and rams), like the ones she surely stumbled across in her travels, set against backdrops of clear blue skies or rolling mountains.
Georgia also received many awards and honors throughout her career, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor in the USA).
Throughout her career, Georgia held numerous solo exhibitions that garnered critical acclaim. In 1946, the MoMA in New York organized a major retrospective of her work, making her the first woman to have a retrospective at their museum. Georgia also received many awards and honors throughout her career, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor in the USA). Her artistic achievements have been celebrated not only for their aesthetic value but also for breaking gender barriers in the male-dominated art world of her time.
In 1986, Georgia passed away at the age of 98. Today, her works are housed in major museums and private collections worldwide, ensuring that her influence endures for generations to come. Georgia O’Keeffe’s impact on the art world is immeasurable, and her legacy continues to shape and inspire the trajectory of American art.
© Julia Lasker (11/15/23) — Special for FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Nicole Ackman’s tribute to Georgia O’Keeffe here.
Learn about/visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe (NM) here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo/Middle Photo: Georgia O’Keeffe portrait taken by photographer Alfred Stieglitz in 1918. Photo Credit: Alpha Stock / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: W2W404
Bottom Photo: Famous Georgia Okeeffe Painting of a Ram’s Skull Resides in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo Credit: Karin Pezo / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2R00C98