The art of Georgia O’Keeffe has been well known for eight decades in this country and for many years has been attaining similar prominence abroad. More than 500 examples of her works are in over 100 public collections in Asia, Europe, and North and Central America. In addition, since her work was first exhibited in New York in 1916, it has been included in hundreds of solo and group exhibitions organized around the world. Thus, it comes as something of a surprise to discover that at the time of her death in 1986, when she was ninety-eight, O’Keeffe owned more than one-half of the 2,029 known works of her total output.
Georgia O’Keeffe was born on November 15,1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, the second of seven children of Francis Calyxtus O’Keeffe and Ida Totto O’Keeffe. She spent her childhood years on the family’s 600-acre dairy farm and she made her first drawings while attending parochial schools in Wisconsin and Virginia. She studied at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago during 1905 and 1906. Following that she went to New York City, attending classes at the Art Students League with William Merrit Chase and Kenyon Cox during the years 1907 and 1908.
In 1908, Georgia O’Keeffe moved to Chicago to work as a commercial artist. She initially supported herself by drawing lace and embroidery for advertisements. However, in 1910, when her eyesight began to suffer after a bout of measles, she gave up her commercial work. In 1915 she was teaching art at Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina; she produced a series of abstract charcoal drawings there and her friend Anita Pollitzer showed them to dealer-photographer Alfred Stieglitz. He gave O’Keeffe her first solo exhibition at his avant-garde gallery, 291. During the same year, she began posing for him, resulting in some of the most remarkable photographs in history. In 1924 she married Stieglitz who was sixty years old.
In 1917, when O’Keeffe traveled from Texas to vacation in Colorado, she spent several days in New Mexico for which she felt an immediate affinity. She returned twelve years later, in 1929, to spend the first of many summers painting there. In 1949, three years after Stieglitz’s death, she made New Mexico her permanent home. She stopped painting regularly when her eyesight began to fail in the early 1970s. Georgia O’Keeffe died at the age of ninety-eight on March 7, 1986.