Georgia O’Keeffe Biography

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born November 15, 1887 , near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin , U.S.
died March 6, 1986 , Santa Fe , New Mexico

One of the foremost painters in 20th-century American art.

O’Keeffe grew up and attended schools in her hometown of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin , and, from 1902, in Williamsburg , Virginia . Determined from an early age to be a painter, she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (1904-05) and the Art Students League of New York (1907-08), and afterward she supported herself by doing commercial art. She then taught art at various schools and colleges in Texas and other Southern states from 1912 to 1916, and in the latter year her drawings were discovered and exhibited by the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz praised and promoted her work, and the two artists began a lifelong relationship, marrying in 1924. The hundreds of photographs Stieglitz took of her form a notable and extended portrait series. O’Keeffe moved to NewYork City after meeting Stieglitz; she later spent periods in New Mexico , to which she moved after her husband’s death in 1946.

O’Keeffe’s early pictures were basically imitative, but by the early 1920s her own highly individualistic style of painting had emerged. Frequently her subjects were enlarged views of skulls and other animal bones, flowers and plant organs, shells, rocks, mountains, and other natural forms. O’Keeffe delineated these forms with probing and subtly rhythmic outlines and delicately modulated washes of clear colour. Her mysteriously suggestive images of bones and flowers set against a perspective-less space inspired a variety of erotic, psychological, and symbolic interpretations. The precision and austerity of her works owe something to the Precisionist paintings of Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, but her ability to invest biomorphic forms with an abstract beauty was entirely her own. Her style is typified in such paintings as Black Iris (1926) and Cow’s Skull, Red, White and Blue (1931).

O’Keeffe painted her best-known works in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, but she remained an active painter into the ’80s. Her later works frequently celebrate the clear skies and desert landscapes of New Mexico . A retrospective exhibition of her art held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1970 assured her reputation as one of the most original and important artists in modern American painting.

Her autobiography, Georgia O’Keeffe, was published in 1976.

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