Column:  A brief history of Georgia O’Keeffe


There are many great reasons to visit Santa Fe, N.M., the most distinctive of our state capitals. A museum featuring the works of Georgia O’Keeffe is among the best of those reasons.

Georgia O’Keefe, who died in Santa Fe in 1986 at age 98, has been called the “Mother of American modernism.” During her long career, she created more than 2,000 paintings, about 200 of involving flowers. One of the flower paintings, entitled “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” sold at auction in 2014 for $44,405,000, establishing the still-existing record for a work of art by a female artist. More than 150 of her paintings, along with hundreds of photographs and other works, are housed in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, established in Santa Fe soon after her death. Many of the displayed paintings depict scenes from New Mexico, which she began visiting in 1929, including those of animal skulls, one of her favorite subjects. The most famous paintings in the museum, many of them very large, depict all or parts of flowers. During her life, critics claimed that some of these flower paintings intentionally evoked female genitalia. That claim was enhanced by the contemporaneous exhibition of nude photos of her by Alfred Stieglitz, her lover and then husband, and her own explicit paintings of nude women. Although she denied the claim, its plausibility is established by simply looking at some of the works on display in the museum, including a 1919 oil on board called, “Series I/White and Blue Flower Shapes.”   

You can see examples of Ms. O’Keeffe’s paintings locally at the Indianapolis Museum of Art Galleries at Newfields, which features a counterpart of the record-setting “Jimson Weed,” and at the Eiteljorg Museum. But if you want to see the most provocative of her paintings, you will have to go to Santa Fe.