National Gallery of Art

Washington, D.C.


Photos from left to right: View of the West Building of the National Gallery of Art (1941) Looking East Towards the U.S. Capitol along Constitution Avenue, NW, photo by Dennis Brack / Black Star; After Dark: View of the East Building from the West Building, Fourth Street Entrance, Opened 1978, Architect: I. M. Pei & Partners, photo by Dennis Brack / Black Star; Interior of East Building atrium of National Gallery of Art, featuring Alexander Calder mobile; photo: John Hazeltine, ©1987


O'Keeffe on Paper


Drawing on new scholarship and including many rarely seen works from private collections, O'Keeffe on Paper presents more than fifty stunning watercolors, pastels, and charcoals by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986). The exhibition offers fresh insights into this distinctive and little-known aspect of the artist's oeuvre. It is on view in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, 9 April through 9 July 2000, and at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 29 July through 29 October 2000.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe. It is made possible by the Henry Luce Foundation, The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation, and the National Advisory Council of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

The exhibition celebrates the publication of the two-volume O'Keeffe catalogue raisonné, a major scholarly project of the National Gallery of Art in partnership with The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation. "Documentation of Georgia O'Keeffe's prolific output in the catalogue raisonné project has provided fascinating new information about the oeuvre of this great American artist," said Earl A. Powell lll, director, National Gallery of Art. "This display of her jewel-like watercolors and pastels and her accomplished charcoals is bound to increase appreciation for O'Keeffe's originality and her special place in the annals of American art."

O'Keeffe, who created works on paper throughout her long career, did some of her most innovative work in watercolor, pastel, and charcoal. By including sheets produced over a half-century period, starting in 1915, the exhibition illuminates the artist's technical virtuosity, while tracing the development of her personal artistic language. In a broader sense, O'Keeffe's work reflects the dialogue in twentieth-century American art between representation and abstraction.

In the 1910s, O'Keeffe created some of the most innovative images of early American modernism, starting with charcoal drawings such as No. 2-Special (1915). The following year, her work was introduced to photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, whom she married in 1924.

O'Keeffe's watercolors from the teens range from the spare and highly abstract, such as Black Lines (1916), to broad fields of clear, bold color, as in Blue No. II (1916) and Evening Star No. V (1917), to more representational images, such as Roof with Snow (1916) and Train at Night in the Desert (1916). Of particular interest are three fluid watercolors--all known as Untitled (Abstraction/Portrait of Paul Strand)--from private collections. Created in 1917, they refer to the photographer and friend of the artist and reflect O'Keeffe's experimentation with different forms of imagery.

O'Keeffe settled in New York City in 1918, where she became part of the circle of modernists gathered around Stieglitz, many of whom, like Stieglitz himself, embraced the city as one of their subjects over several decades. O'Keeffe used pastel to record buildings silhouetted against the East River and charcoal to depict the skyline of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. Blue Flower (1918), a delicate early pastel, presages the large-format oil paintings of flowers close-up for which O'Keeffe is famous, while A White Camellia (1938) is a late pastel on a similar theme. After her permanent move to New Mexico in 1949 she again chose to work in charcoal. Among those late works is the highly abstract From a River Trip (1965), the latest drawing in the exhibition.

Coordinating curator of the exhibition in Washington is Ruth E. Fine, the National Gallery's curator of modern prints and drawings and co-director of the catalogue raisonné project. Selections were made by Fine with Barbara Buhler Lynes, co-curator of the exhibition, author of the catalogue raisonné, curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, and Emily Fisher Landau Director of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center; Judith Walsh, the Gallery's senior paper conservator, who participated in the catalogue raisonné project; and Elizabeth Glassman, president emerita of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and co-director of the catalogue raisonné project.

The fully illustrated exhibition catalogue demonstrates the depth of work conducted by the catalogue raisonné project and how the research has facilitated greater understanding of O'Keeffe's art. Essays by Fine and Glassman, Lynes, and Walsh place O'Keeffe's works on paper in the context of her American contemporaries and in relation to her oil paintings, and examine the importance of the artist's choice of materials in the development of her aesthetic. Also available is Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné by Barbara Buhler Lynes, published by Yale University Press, the National Gallery of Art, and The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation. A two-volume set in a slipcase, it presents more than 2,000 paintings, drawings, watercolors, and sculptures by O'Keeffe, many of which have not previously been reproduced, along with factual entries for each. There is a full bibliography, exhibitions listing, and chronology of the artist's life, with 2,050 illustrations in color and 100 in black-and-white.



Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small. We haven't time - and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time.
If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small. So I said to myself - I'll paint what I see - what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it - I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.
...Well, I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower - and I don't.
- Georgia O'Keeffe


Georgia O'Keeffe

Born in 1887 on a farm in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia O'Keeffe began a direct, observant relationship with her immediate environment during her childhood. Perhaps as a result of spending her early years on a farm, she gained insight into the cycles of nature which would have an impact upon her life and would serve as one source for her work as an artist.

O'Keeffe was sent to boarding school in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains when her family moved to Virginia in 1903. She spent long hours walking in the mountains, observing the landscape and communicating her observations through her work.

After spending a year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, O'Keeffe went to New York City for the first time in the fall of 1907 as a student at the Art Students' League. The tone of the art world, set by such champions of the American school as William Merritt Chase, was conservative. Before the revolutionary Armory Show in 1913, when European avant garde artists such as Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne, and Pablo Picasso were introduced to the American public, Alfred Stieglitz's "291" Gallery was the only outlet where work by such innovative artists could be seen. O'Keeffe visited "291" and was initially put off by Stieglitz's abrasive, argumentative personal style. But she was, at the time, fascinated by his enthusiasm for the role of new arts for the new century.

After another year in Chicago, working as a commercial artist, O'Keeffe returned to her family's home in Virginia. In the summer of 1912 at her sister's urging she visited a drawing class at the University of Virginia taught by Alon Bement. His instruction, based on theories of design inspired by Columbia Teachers' College professor Arthur Dow, greatly influenced O'Keeffe's thinking. Thus Dow's notions of filling a space in a beautiful way would become an element in her work. The following four summers O'Keeffe worked with Bement as a teaching assistant at the University.

From the fall of 1912 through the spring of 1914 O'Keeffe supported herself teaching art in Amarillo, Texas. She immediately felt at home in the prairie, despite the difference between the great empty spaces of Texas and the familiar green rolling hills of Virginia where she continued to spend her summers. She identified with the flat, barren landscape that became a frequent inspiration for drawings and paintings. O'Keeffe returned to New York from the fall of 1914 through the spring of 1915 and again in the spring of 1916 for a few months of study at Columbia Teachers' College. A more serious student than on previous visits, O'Keeffe began making critical decisions about her future as an artist. The art world, affected by the Armory show, was more sophisticated in 1915 than in 1907, the year of her first visit. New European and American artists, as well as collectors and critics, continued to meet in Stieglitz's "291" Gallery. O'Keeffe made giant steps toward becoming an artist by developing a more original approach to art.

While in South Carolina teaching at a small college in 1915 and 1916, O'Keeffe decided to reject the influence of other artists and to paint and draw to please only herself. This resulted in a series of highly original black and white charcoal drawings. She sent the drawings to Anita Pollitzer (a friend and fellow student from New York) who showed them to Alfred Stieglitz. Organic, natural forms define these abstract drawings which visually incorporate O'Keeffe's impressions of the only instruction which she didn't totally reject -- an idea of drawing based on the elements of design.

Her returning in the fall of 1916 to the landscape where she felt most at home -- Texas -- provided inspiration for highly expressive images. She re-introduced brilliant color into her work, using it freely as a tool of expression, just as she had before used only line, form and composition. She began to utilize a technique which she would follow throughout her life: the repetition of one idea in a series of pictures dealing with the same subject until she has exhausted her interest in the image.

Stieglitz and O'Keeffe corresponded regularly from 1916 to 1918. The drawings that the artist sent to Stieglitz from Canyon, Texas, formed the nucleus of her first one-woman show held at "291" during the spring of 1917. She traveled to New York to see the exhibition, which had been taken down and had to be re-hung. When the paintings and drawings were re-installed Stieglitz took his first photographs of O'Keeffe, beginning a study that would last until 1937. At Stieglitz's urging O'Keeffe returned to New York in 1918. She and Stieglitz were married in 1924.

During her career, which spanned nearly 70 years, O'Keeffe's art continually fluctuated between the real and abstract. She presented identifiable subjects, whether a flower, bone or a rock, and explored the idea of that object to its end.

Stieglitz supported her work with yearly solo exhibitions, first the Intimate Gallery, and subsequently at An American Place after "291" closed. In 1929, tiring of annual sojourns at Lake George with the large Stieglitz family and of the routine of her life, O'Keeffe began spending summers in New Mexico. There she continued to use her surroundings as her most frequent subject, creating innovative renderings of the magnificent beauty and mystery of the desert landscape. She continued with some of the same treatments she had used when painting the landscape of Lake George, New York, and Texas: isolation and magnification. O'Keeffe painted her impressions of and the feeling for the desert Southwest. By picking up pieces of the desert, bones and rocks, she painted the essence of the land she considered most well suited to her in works.

After Stieglitz's death in 1946, O'Keeffe returned to New Mexico to live permanently. She traveled frequently and gained inspiration from new sited and experiences. To communicate the sensation of the tremendous height she experienced when flying, she created by far her largest canvas, Sky Above Clouds VI (1965).

Throughout her life Georgia O'Keeffe maintained an unusually close visual relationship to the world around her and to her direct experiences. By realistic rendering or by capturing the essence of the land by removing one element which becomes a symbol of the subject, O'Keeffe remains today one of America's most independent and innovative artists.

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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