Much of my information was drawn from the following article written by Sarah Whitaker Peters fromGrove Art Online copyright 2009 by Oxford University Press, found on www.moma.org
American painter and draughtsman. She decided to become an artist when she was 12. From1905 to 1906 she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1907 she went to New York tostudy oil, pastel and watercolour painting at the Art Students League. She worked there for a year withWilliam Merritt Chase and won the Chase Still Life Scholarship. In 1908 she saw the first Americanexhibitions of the work of Auguste Rodin (watercolours) and of Henri Matisse at the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, known as 291, run by Alfred Stieglitz.
Between 1908 and 1910 O’Keeffe worked as a freelance commercial artist (drawing lace and
embroidery advertisements) in Chicago. During summer 1912 she attended a drawing class run by AlonBement (1876
1954) at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Through him she became interestedin the anti-academic system of art education, developed by Ernest Fenollosa (1853
1908) and ArthurWesley Dow (1857
1922) during the 1890s from Japanese principles of two-dimensional design. This
system was saturated with Symbolist notions of ‘visual music’ and synaesthesia, and for the next sixyears O’Keeffe taught it
at schools and colleges in Virginia, South Carolina and Texas.
O’Keeffe returned to New York in autumn 1914 to work for six months with Dow at the Teachers
College, Columbia University. She became increasingly aware of European modernism, seeing work byPicasso, Georges Braque and Francis Picabia at 291. By summer 1915 she had twice read in translationÜber das Geistige in der Kunst (Munich, 1912; Eng. trans. by M. T. H. Sadler as the Art of SpiritualHarmony (1914)) by Vasily Kandinsky, Cubism and Post-Impressionism by Arthur Jerome Eddy and issuesof the magazines Camera Work and 291. In late 1915 she produced a breakthrough series of large
charcoal abstractions (c. 625×225 mm) from, she said, the ‘things in my head’. Each of these gender
-based expressions of self contain concrete, if unconscious, references to the plant and wave motifs of Art Nouveau, for example Special No. 9 (Houston, TX, Menil Col.). The organic geometries in this series
of ovoid, ellipse, vertical stalk, spiral, seedpod, tendril and arabesque
exist like armatures beneath herlater landscapes, flowers, skyscrapers, stars, trees, Penitente crosses of the Hispanic Catholicfundamentalists, animal bones, mesas and clouds. Stieglitz saw the series in January 1916. Always insearch of the new and determined to recognize and foster an indigenous American art, he exhibitedthem at 291 (23 May
5 July 1916). In 1917 he held a one-woman show of her work, which includedseveral Texas landscape watercolours, including The Evening Star and Light Coming on the Plains series(e.g. Light Coming on the Plains II, 1917; Fort Worth, TX, Amon Carter Mus.)
O’Keeffe moved to New York in 1918 with the promise of Stieglitz’s financial support. They
married in 1924, and he exhibited her work almost yearly in New Y
ork until his death in 1946. O’Keeffebecame interested in the aesthetics of photography as a direct result of posing so often for Stieglitz’s
camera. She also knew and valued the work of other important photographers associated with 291,especially Edward J. Steichen, Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler. In 1919, in such paintings as Fifty-ninth
Street Studio (artist’s estate, see O’Keeffe, pl. 16) and Inside Red Canna (New York, Michael J. Scharf
priv. col., see Callaway, 1987, pl. 7, p. 7), she started to isolate certain elements from the photographic
process to serve a new goal: ‘objectivity’; these notably included cropped images, isolated detail,
telephoto, magnified close-up and the lens malfunctions common to old view cameras such asconvergence, halation and flare. She used them for abstraction and expression, however, notverisimilitude. The earliest large close-up flower painting was Petunia No. 2 (1924; Santa Fe, NM, PetersGal.). Her New York cityscapes of the late 1920s contain the greatest array of photo-opticcharacteristics. The first, New York with Moon (1925; Lugano, Col. Thyssen-Bornemisza), has a halatingstreet lamp; in City Night (1926; Minneapolis, MN, Inst. A.) the leaning skyscrapers are extremevariations of convergence; The Shelton with Sunspots (1926; Chicago, IL, A. Inst.) is based on lens flare.Her original, metaphysical vision of city architecture may be characterized as urban sublime.