Georgia O'Keefe

(1887—1986) American painter

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US painter whose semi-abstract studies of natural objects place her at the forefront of early modernism in the USA.

Having spent her childhood on a farm in Wisconsin, Georgia O'Keeffe studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York. From 1912 to 1918 she taught art in Texas, where she was head of the art department in the West Texas Normal School. In 1916 the photographer Alfred Stieglitz began to exhibit her work in his avant-garde New York gallery. He continued to promote and encourage her work, and the couple married in 1924, O'Keeffe becoming his model for over five hundred photographic portraits.

O'Keeffe's painting has been termed ‘precisionist’ because of its clear simple forms. But while her paintings appear almost naive, they have a semiabstract quality that has been subject to complex symbolic interpretation. Much of O'Keeffe's work concentrates on the natural world, as in her detailed studies of plant organs and flowers, exemplified by Black Iris (1926); however, she also painted urban architecture, as in Radiator Building (1927). In 1929 O'Keeffe discovered the arid beauty of the New Mexico desert. In such paintings as Cow's Skull, Red, White, and Blue (1931) and Pelvis with Blue (1944) she focuses on desert flowers and animal bones, imbuing them with the sensuous stillness of their background landscape. She settled in New Mexico after Stieglitz's death in 1946.

Among other honours, O'Keeffe received the gold medal for painting from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1970) and the National Medal of Arts (1985). She published her autobiography, Georgia O'Keeffe, in 1976.

Subjects: Art.

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