Who Was Georgia O'Keefe?

Abiquiu, New Mexico - a favorite subject of Georgia O'Keeffe.
Abiquiu, New Mexico - a favorite subject of Georgia O'Keeffe.

Georgia O’Keeffe was a painter of American origin who inspired an entire generation of painters in the 20th century and was instrumental in the growth of the American Modernism movement of the early 20th century. Georgia O’Keeffe had a natural artistic talent and used Surrealism and Precisionism to carve out her distinct painting style.

Early Life

Georgia O’Keeffe was born on November 15th, 1887, in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin to Francis O’Keeffe and Ida O’Keeffe. She was the second-eldest child with six other siblings. Georgia was named after her maternal grandfather who was of Hungarian heritage. Georgia’s parents were both local dairy farmers. Georgia O’Keeffe showed interest in art at a young age and was encouraged to sharpen her artistic talent by her mother. She joined the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905 at the age of 18 years. O’Keeffe later moved to the New York-based Arts Students League where under the tutorship of F. Luis Mora, William Chase, and Kenyon Cox, she developed an interest in the traditional realist style. It was during this period that Georgia painted the “Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot” which won her the 1908 William Merritt Chase still-life award.


In 1908, while in the Arts Students League, O’Keeffe’s father became bankrupt and hence was not able to continue financing his daughter’s education. This turn of events forced O’Keeffe to drop out of school. She started working as an art teacher in 1911 at the Chatham Episcopal Institute and later taught in numerous public schools in Amarillo between 1912 and 1914. Using her salary, O’Keeffe enrolled for short art classes first at the University of Virginia in 1912 where she learned of the artistic ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow, and later at the Columbia University in 1914. In 1915, Georgia O’Keeffe made a series of charcoal abstractions which were later exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz’s (O’Keeffe’s future husband) and Edward Steichen’s New York gallery in 1916. George O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz got married in 1924, and the couple moved in together in an apartment in New York. In the 1920s, while in New York, O’Keeffe began experimenting on perspective and started her now popular flower paintings as well as paintings based on New York’s skyline as a symbol of modernization in the city. The artist then developed a love for the wilderness in New Mexico and purchased a house in Ghost Ranch in 1940 and used the local culture and landscape as an inspiration for her paintings.

Famous Works

Georgia’s earliest painting was “The Flag,” a painting she created in 1917 while visiting her brother before he traveled to Europe to serve in the armed forces during the First World War. The painting expressed O’Keeffe’s anxiety and worry about World War I. Georgia’s first solo exhibition in 1917 featured her charcoal abstractions including “Drawing XIII” which were among the earliest American pure abstraction works. However, Georgia’s most popular paintings were her flower paintings of the 1920s including the “Jimson Weed” which was sold in 2014 at an auction for over $44.4 million. O’Keeffe’s 1939 painting titled “Pineapple Bud” was commissioned by an American advertising agency to be used to advertise the Hawaiian Pineapple Company.

Death and Legacy

In her later years, Georgia O’Keeffe became physically frail and started to lose her sight after years of macular degeneration. O’Keeffe died on March 6th, 1986 in Santa Fe at the age of 98 years. Georgia O’Keeffe became one of the most famous painters of the 20th century and was instrumental in the growth of the modernism movement of the early 20th century. Most of O’Keeffe’s works are exhibited at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe which was established in 1996 in her honor.


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