Georgia O’Keeffe: Avant-Garde Painting In The Desert

Yellow Hickory Leaves with Daisy, 1928
Yellow Hickory Leaves with Daisy, 1928 | ©Sharon Mollerus
A. J. Samuels

Known for her striking organic forms and vast, abstract desertscapes, Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the most radical painters of her generation. With an unusual yet distinctive aesthetic, O’Keeffe served as a leading artist in the 20th century, and her work is still widely celebrated.

Georgia O’Keeffe created a new aesthetic with her synthesis of abstraction and realism. Developing an interest in art as a child, O’Keeffe studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905 and later at the Art Students League in New York in 1907, where she was influenced by European avant-garde artists. She started experimenting with representational forms in charcoal and later, in watercolors. Her clear, precise lines and bold geometry was noticed by leading photographer and collector Alfred Stieglitz, who displayed O’Keeffe’s work at his famous Gallery 291.

While conceptually abstract, O’Keeffe’s work began to morph into recognizable forms. In 1918, she moved to New York with Stieglitz, whom she later married in 1924. It was during this period that she developed her highly identifiable aesthetic.

Influenced by Modernist photography, the oil paintings O’Keeffe produced in the 1920s were in direct response to New York’s urbanism. The artist portrayed magnified trees, flowers, and leaves. She entered a fruitful phase in her artistic career when she moved to New Mexico in 1949 following the death of Stieglitz. O’Keeffe had become fascinated with the region since she visited as a child, resided in a house on her beloved Ghost Ranch during the summers.

New Mexico’s vast landscape served as major inspiration for O’Keeffe. She said her paintings expressed “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.” Working in Taos, her work focused on plant life, local architecture, scattered rocks, and animal skulls alongside the hills and mesas that characterized the region.

By the mid-20th century, O’Keeffe returned to the simpler abstraction of her early paintings, and she began working in clay. Her most notable work includes Desert Abstraction (1931), Red Hills and Pedernal (1936), Summer Days (1936) and Black Place (1944). O’Keeffe died in 1986 at the age of 98, and following her wishes, her ashes were scattered on top of her beloved Pedernal Mountain, on which she once remarked, “It’s my private mountain, it belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.”

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe opened in 1997 and was the first museum dedicated to a female artist in the United States.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,665 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article