10 Things you didn't know about Georgia O'Keeffe

Anna Walker

10 Fascinating facts about the mother of American modernism, the artist Georgie O'Keeffe. 

1. Nothing could stop her painting

O'Keeffe in 1918, photograph by Alfred Stieglitz
O'Keeffe in 1918, photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. Image via Wiki Commons

Georgia O'Keeffe was very outdoorsy and would paint in any conditions—fierce winds, scorching sun or bitter cold. She would simply pull on gloves, climb inside her car or pull tarp over her tent, and keep working. Her camping equipment is periodically exhibited at the O'Keeffe Museum

 

2. She stopped using watercolours to gain respect

Georgia O'Keeffe watercolour
One of Georgia O'Keeffe's watercolours, Untitled, The Rotunda at University of Virginia, 1912–14. Image via Wiki Commons

Until she met her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O'Keeffee was working prolifically in watercolour, using the medium to capture her innermost emotions in beautiful landscape paintings. 

In her book Carr, O'Keeffe, Kahlo: Places of Their Own, author Sharyn Rohlfsen described O'Keeffe's watercolours as having, "captured a monumental landscape in this simple configuration, fusing blue and green pigments in almost indistinct tonal graduations that simulate the pulsating effect of light on the horizon of the Texas Panhandle." 

Stieglitz was adamant that she should move on from watercolours however, as he thought they were typically associated with amateur women artists. 

 

3. She disagreed with interpretations of her work

floral paintings
O'Keeffe's Series 1, No 8, 1918. Image via Wiki Commons

Most people associate Georgia O'Keeffe's supersized flower paintings—and in particular her Red Canna series—with a subtext of female genitalia, but this was never the intention of the artist when composing her most iconic series of works. 

It's likely this notion was influenced by the explicit photographs O'Keeffe's partner, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, took, and then exhibited, of her. By the time of his retirement from photography, he had made more than 350 portraits and more 200 nude photos of her.

O'Keeffe remained adamant throughout her career that her paintings of flowers really were just paintings of flowers. Speaking about her work, she explained:

"Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small – we haven’t time – and to see takes time… So I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers… Well – I made you take time to look … and when you took time … you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don’t."

 

4. She broke the record for the most expensive painting by a woman artist

O'Keeffe

In 2014, O'Keeffe's painting Jimson Weed sold for a record-breaking $44.4 milllion. The proceeds from the sale were put towards the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

This was more than three times more than the previous record for any female artist, previously held by Joan Mitchell, whose painting Untitled was sold in May of the same year for $11.9 million.

The painting hung in the White House during the George W Bush administration. 

 

5. She loved to drive

Ford A Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe enjoyed her own company, and was no stranger to spending extensive periods of time on her own. 

While living or working in New Mexico, she loved to explore her surroundings in her Ford Model A. She had the car customised, so that she could remove the front seats and turn her car into a miniature studio, where she was protected by the dessert creepy crawlies and the harsh rays of the New Mexico sun. 

 

6. In later life, she lost her eyesight

Georgia O'Keeffe
Image via Wiki Commons

As she aged, Georgia O'Keeffe lost a significant portion of her vision to macular degeneration, and had to paint with only her peripheral vision remaining. 

She didn't let it slow her down however, and was still creating artworks up until she turned 96 and continuing to raft and camp way into her seventies. 

 

7. She rejected requests to join feminist art groups

O'Keeffe was a lone wolf and turned down any and all requests to join feminist art movements or any all-woman projects. 

She made it clear that she disliked the phrase "woman artist", wishing to simply be known as an artist instead. 

 

8. There is a fossil named after her

Ghost Ranch
Ghost Ranch. Image via Creative Commons

In 2006, scientists named a fossilised species of archosaur found in New Mexico after O'Keeffe—ffigia okeeffeae, or "O'Keeffe's Ghost". 

They explained that this decision was made "in honour of Georgia O'Keeffe for her numerous paintings of the badlands at Ghost Ranch and her interest in the Coelophysis Quarry when it was discovered".

 

9. She was a romantic

Over the course of their relationship, O'Keeffe and Stieglitz sent each other over 250,000 love letters. They would sometimes write to each other several times in a single day, and up to 40 pages worth at a time. 

You can read and listen to several extracts from their letters on the NPR website

 

10. She painted so much more than flowers

O'Keeffe bone painting
Ram's Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills, 1935. Image via Wiki Commons

The incredible large-scale flowers made up just ten per cent of O'Keeffe's work.

She was also an incredible landscape painter, capturing the scenery in New Mexico and New York as well as several studies of natural forms such as bones and shells. 

 

Read more: 7 Things you didn't know about Frida Kahlo

Read more: How to understand art

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Header image via Flickr