What is the legacy of Georgia O’Keeffe? More than just flowers

Hari By Angharad Mountford, EY Copywriter

The name Georgia O’Keeffe may conjure up an image of that iconic flower painting typical of the artist’s style, however, there is much more than botanicals on offer at Tate Modern’s major retrospective on the artist.

It is fair to say, though, that O’Keeffe does focus on florals in a large portion of her early work, but these paintings are a far cry from a still life, or even a Monet. O’Keeffe’s flowers are hugely magnified, and almost anatomically inspired, offering an insight into the depths of the flower’s structure in a uniquely artistic manner. Deep pinks, reds and oranges emit a warming glow, adding an almost sensuous nature to the works.

In addition to the rich oil-paint florals in the Tate’s collection, the watercolour landscapes of New Mexico offer a cooler, and more distanced glimpse of O’Keeffe’s art. The deserts of New Mexico feature repeatedly, but with a classic O’Keeffe tendency of looking at nature through an abstract lens.

Skulls, rocks and leaves also form the subject of the artist’s paintings, emphasising O’Keeffe’s fascination with natural forms. If anyone wondered if a picture of a deer’s skull could be anything other than morbid, Georgia O’Keeffe’s take on it will convince you of the artistry inherent in nature, and the talent the artist has in making even an unappealing animal remnant into a striking piece of art.

Aside from the quality of her work, the sheer length of Georgie O’Keeffe’s career is pretty impressive. The American artist died aged 98 in 1986, a record in itself, but not so official at the record of 44 million dollars that someone spent on one of her paintings, which is the most money ever paid for an artwork by a woman. Luckily, you will not have to ponder over just what this talented female looked like, as Tate’s exhibition offers an insight into O’Keeffe’s life as well as her creative output. Nudes of the artist by her husband Alfred Stieglitz, as well as countless photographs and a biography of her life on the walls throughout the gallery, mean that you leave the exhibition not only with a feel for Georgia O’Keeffe’s art, but a sense of who she was as a person.

It is no wonder that O’Keeffe is claimed to be the ‘mother of American Modernism’: Tate Modern’s retrospective on the artist certainly celebrates the influence and talent of this pioneering feminist painter.


Georgia O’Keeffe is open at Tate Modern until 30 October. EY people receive free access as part of The EY Tate Arts Partnership.