Art history is rife with firsts. The first cave painting. The first artwork with linear perspective. The first professional artist. The firsts to spark an artistic movement. And among them, Georgia O’Keeffe: the first female American modernist. Not only that, but the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was also the first museum in the United States to be dedicated to a female artist. While there are now many women in modern art, she was the first to break into the modern art movement.
Red Canna (1924)
Born in 1887 and with an art career that spanned seven decades, Georgia O’Keeffe played a key role in the development of America’s modernist movement. She was one of the first to use the photography technique of cropping images and applying them to painting, and in doing so, she created beautiful paintings so up close that they were made abstract. One such painting is Red Canna, based on the red canna lily yet enlarged to the extent that it is almost unrecognizable. O’Keeffe utilized large canvases to blow up the tiniest details in a flower and emphasize her proficiency with scale, line, and color. However, despite her influence on modernism, O’Keeffe went against the grain is the 1940s through 1960s by keeping her work representation, as opposed to her contemporaries who focused on non-representational art.
Ram’s Head with Hollyhock (1935)
Her work was predominantly inspired by nature, especially the New Mexico landscape. While living in New York, O’Keeffe would make frequent trips to New Mexico before moving there permanently in 1949. It was here that she was most inspired by her surrounding environment—the jutting cliffs, weathered animal skulls, and desert flora all make frequent appearances in her artworks.
Her work brought into focus the detailed delicacies of nature and helped to inspire a generation of female modern artists, including Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro. During her lifetime, O’Keeffe produced over 900 artworks and her innovation and talent within these paintings branded her as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. She died at the age of 98 and her ashes were scattered across New Mexico, making her a part of the landscape she so lovingly rendered in paintings. Georgia O’Keeffe broke into the modern art scene with vigor and ingenuity, and in doing so, carved a path for future women to follow.
Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico (1930)
- “Georgia O’Keeffe Overview and Analysis.” The Art Story, www.theartstory.org.
- Messinger, Lisa. “Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986).” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Oct. 2004, www.metmuseum.org.