Georgia O'Keeffe Biography

(American Modernist Artist Known for Her Flowers and New York Skyscrapers Paintings)

Birthday: November 15, 1887 (Scorpio)

Born In: Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, United States

Georgia O’Keeffe was an American artist counted amongst the greatest American artists of the 20th century. She was especially famed for her bold and striking paintings of flowers and New York skyscrapers. Born in the Town of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, into a large family, she developed an interest in drawing and sketching at a young age and soon realized that her calling in life was to become an artist. She received lessons from a local art teacher as a young girl and went on to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She also attended the Art Students League in New York City where she excelled as a budding artist and won accolades for her paintings. She learned the techniques of traditional realist painting from the likes of William Merritt Chase, F. Luis Mora, and Kenyon Cox, and was also greatly influenced by the radical ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow. Over the course of her career she became acquainted with the famed photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz who she eventually married. Her husband supported her career wholeheartedly and she went on to attain a name for herself as one of America’s most important and successful artists. She is often referred to as the "Mother of American modernism" in recognition of her contributions to American art.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Georgia Totto O'Keeffe

Died At Age: 98


Spouse/Ex-: Alfred Stieglitz (m. 1924–1946)

father: Francis Calyxtus O'Keeffe

mother: Ida O'Keeffe

siblings: Alexius Wyckoff O'Keeffe, Anita O’Keeffe, Catherine Blanche O'Keeffe, Claudia O’Keeffe, Francis Calyxtus O'Keeffe Jr, Ida O’Keeffe

Born Country: United States

American Women Columbia College

Died on: March 6, 1986

place of death: Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States

U.S. State: Wisconsin

Notable Alumni: Art Students League Of New York, Teachers College, Columbia University

Ancestry: Irish American, Hungarian American

More Facts

education: University Of Virginia, Columbia College, Art Students League Of New York, Teachers College, Columbia University

awards: 1977 - Presidential Medal of Freedom
1985 - National Medal of Arts

Childhood & Early Life
Georgia O'Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887, to Francis Calyxtus O'Keeffe and Ida as the second of their seven children. Her parents were dairy farmers and had a farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
She loved art from a young age and her parents arranged for her to receive lessons from a local artist. She received her education from different schools and graduated from Chatham Episcopal Institute in Virginia in 1905. She was a member of the Kappa Delta sorority.
She studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1905 to 1906 before moving on to the Art Students League in New York City. There she studied under William Merritt Chase and received a scholarship to attend the League's outdoor summer school in Lake George, New York.
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Georgia O'Keeffe became disillusioned with the idea of becoming an artist after completing her studies and took up a job as a commercial artist instead in 1908. After not painting for four years, she was motivated to paint again in 1912 after attending a class at the University of Virginia Summer School. There she learned about the innovative ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow which inspired her to take up the brush again.
For the next two years from 1912–14, she taught art in the public schools in Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. In 1914, she started attending Teachers College of Columbia University and took classes from Dow who would prove to be a great influence on O’Keeffe’s art.
In 1915 she continued teaching and also started creating artworks of her own, completing a series of highly innovative charcoal abstractions. She mailed some of her abstract drawings to a friend in New York City who showed them to Alfred Stieglitz, a prominent art dealer and famous photographer.
Stieglitz liked the paintings very much and exhibited ten of her drawings at his gallery, 291, in 1916. The next year he organized O'Keeffe's first solo show at 291, which included oil paintings and watercolors completed in Texas. By 1918, he had convinced O’Keeffe to move to New York to devote all of her time to her work.
Stieglitz and O’Keeffe began a personal relationship and got married. He had a great influence on her art as she was highly inspired by Stieglitz’s photography. She completed many significant paintings during the 1920s including ‘Petunia, No. 2’ (1924), ‘City Night and New York—Night’ (1926) and ‘Radiator Bldg—Night, New York’ (1927). By the mid-1920s, she had become known as one of the most important American artists.
She travelled to New Mexico for the first time in 1929 and was deeply moved by the landscape, art and architectural style of the region. This marked the beginning of a new phase in her artistic career and she took up painting churches, buildings, and other interesting artifacts in New Mexico, and visited the place every year between 1929 and 1949, before permanently settling there.
Her popularity as an artist continued to grow throughout the 1930s and 1940s, and her paintings were shown in numerous exhibitions in and around New York. She held two one-woman retrospectives, the first at the Art Institute of Chicago (1943), and the second in 1946 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Manhattan during the 1940s.
She began travelling extensively in the 1950s, visiting places all over the globe and painting many of the spectacular places she had been to. Her paintings of the mountain peaks of Peru and Japan’s Mount Fuji became especially well-known.
Her eyesight began failing during her later years and she could not paint much. However, her diminishing eyesight could not dampen her love for the art, and she continued painting with the help of assistants even after she became almost blind from macular degeneration.
Major Works
Georgia O'Keeffe’s painting ‘Summer Days’, featuring a deer’s skull adorned with various wildflowers, against a desert background, is one of her most famous works. A similar painting, ‘Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory’ which depicts a ram’s skull and a blue morning glory placed side by side is also a popular painting of hers.
Awards & Achievements
She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1962.
In 1966, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to American civilians, by President Gerald R. Ford in 1977.
Personal Life & Legacy
Georgia O'Keeffe first met Alfred Stieglitz, a famed photographer and gallery owner, in 1908 but they did not correspond with each other until after a few years in the mid-1910s. Stieglitz was 23 years senior to her and married, yet they became involved in a romantic relationship. Stieglitz divorced his wife and married O’Keeffe in 1924.
Georgia O’Keeffe was completely devoted to her profession and continued painting independently for as long as she could. Her eyesight started failing during her later years and she had to take the help of assistants to aid her in painting. She died on March 6, 1986, at the age of 98.
Lifetime Television produced a biopic of Georgia O'Keeffe starring Joan Allen as O’Keeffe which premiered in 2009.

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