Artist: Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe was born to Francis and Ida O’Keeffe in an agricultural setting near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her parents were dairy farmers, of Irish and Hungarian descent. Georgia’s mother was a direct descendent of Edward Muller, a passenger on the Mayflower. The young artist was the second of seven children in the family. Mrs. O’Keeffe encouraged her children to attend local art classes where it was discovered her oldest daughter had a talent for watercolors. Georgia O’Keeffe was further encouraged, and she attended the Town Hall School in Wisconsin receiving instruction from Sara Mann. She attended Sacred Heart Academy in Madison, Wisconsin in 1901 and 1902. While she was attending school, Georgia O’Keeffe stayed with her aunt and her family moved to Virginia. Midway way through her studies she joined her family in Virginia and finished her studies at Chatham Hall in 1905. Georgia O’Keeffe was thankful for her mother’s insistence on higher education for herself and her sisters.
The art world’s exposure to Georgia O’Keeffe prints began in 1905, when she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She studied with William Chase, eventually winning the William Merit Chase award for ‘Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot’. This earned O’Keeffe a summer scholarship to study at Lake George, New York. While there, she attended a watercolor exhibit at 291 gallery, owned by Alfred Stieglitz. A few years passed and O’Keeffe became disinterested in her work. She settled in Chicago and took up employment as a commercial artist in 1908. After a brief time as an art teacher in Texas, O’Keeffe attended a class at the University of Virginia and was inspired the work of Arthur Dow. She learned her signature style of light and dark contrast from Dow and it is believed the collection of Georgia O’Keeffe prints we all enjoy, began to form then. After serving as a teaching assistant, O’Keeffe returned to Texas to teach in the new art department of West Texas A&M University. O’Keeffe found inspiration for many of her earlier works in nearby Palo Duro Canyon.
Without her knowledge, Anita Pollitzer took some Georgia O’Keeffe’s prints to Alfred Stieglitz at the 291 gallery. Stieglitz was quite impressed with the work and exhibited 10 of her drawings in April 1916. After learning through the grapevine her work was being exhibited, she discussed it with Alfred, and they agreed the drawings would continue to hang. Ms. O’Keeffe went on to her first solo exhibit at the 291 gallery in April 1917, with the majority of works as watercolors from Palo Duro Canyon. While visiting the gallery in New York, Stieglitz invited Georgia to his family home at Lake George. In support of O’Keeffe, he invited her to stay in a studio apartment near the lake house. In time, the two fell in love and they returned to the lake home every year. They would spend winter and spring in the city, while retreating to the lakes during summer and fall. Many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s prints were inspired from her time at Lake George.
Early in their relationship Alfred photographed Georgia O’Keeffe in many styles, including nudes. Over the years he made hundreds of photographs of her, more than 300 in a twenty year span. In winter 1921, Stieglitz's photographs, including many O'Keeffe prints, were displayed at the Anderson Galleries.
In the mid 20’s, Georgia O’Keeffe shifted from watercolors to oil portraits of natural and architectural subjects. Her first notable example was a large floral portrait ‘Petunia, No. 2’ exhibited in 1925. Still, Georgia O’Keeffe prints of famous New York buildings such as ‘City Night’ and ‘Radiator Building - Night, New York’ demonstrated her range as an artist. Her floral works were later attributed to representations of female genitalia, a claim she dismissed throughout her life. In the late 20’s O’Keeffe was becoming known as an influential artist, with her paintings selling for greater sums than any other living American artist. The large sums only fueled a greater interest in her work. In an effort to find new subject matter for an increasing demand for Georgia O’Keeffe prints, she set out for New Mexico. After exploring most of the state, she was invited to stay the summer at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s ranch near Taos. Many pack trips into the wilderness gave her ample subject matter, including ‘The Lawrence Tree’. This work now resides in the Wadsworth Athenaeum. Her rendition of the historical mission church at Rancho de Taos was one of many, but the O’Keeffe print has stood out in the years since she created it.
In the 30’s and 40’s Georgia’ O’Keeffe’s place in the art world grew more prominent, along with her commissions. One of Georgia O’Keeffe’s most popular works, ‘Summer Days’, was completed in 1936. It featured a cattle skull decorated with flowers set in a desert scene. During the 1940s Georgia O’Keeffe had two one-woman exhibits. The first was held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943 and the second at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946.