Georgia O'Keeffe, new mexico artist
Georgia O'Keeffe 1918 by Alfred Stieglitz
New Mexico has a strong tradition of women artists, both native-born as well as those who felt the allure of the Southwest and adopted the state as their residence. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) is undoubtedly the most famous female painter among them. She visited New Mexico first in 1929, returned frequently in the 1940s and then made her home in New Mexico permanently in the late 1940s, living in the small village of Abiquiu and also on the more remote Ghost Ranch. O’Keeffe noted that, “The country seems to call one in a way that no one has to answer to.

Georgia O’Keeffe grew up on a farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. She later studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York, where the educational format encourages students to develop their own philosophies and techniques.  After several years of working in a commercial setting, O’Keeffe began to take art classes. She learned about the art theories and methods of Arthur Wesley Dow, who emphasized composition and freedom in the use of colors and lines. Dow’s philosophies had a strong influence on O’Keeffe; she experimented with them for several years while teaching art in Amarillo, Texas.

Early Abstraction 1915 Charcoal

In 1915 O’Keeffe began a series of abstract charcoal drawings considered by many to be among the most innovative and radical work being created at that time. O’Keeffe mailed some of these abstract drawings to a friend, who in turn showed them to Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz, an internationally known photographer and art dealer, exhibited them in his “291” gallery in New York City. Stieglitz continued to exhibit and promote her work, and by the early 1920s O’Keeffe attained an important position in the modern art movement. The photographic portraits that Stieglitz took of O’Keeffe between 1918 and 1937 also contributed to her prestige.

Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz married in 1924, but their marriage was an unconventional one. In the summer of 1929, O’Keeffe made the first of many trips to northern New Mexico where the dramatic landscape and distinctive culture inspired a new direction in her work. Over the next two decades she spent much of her time living and working in New Mexico. She made the state her permanent home in 1949, three years after Stieglitz’s death.

Georgia O’Keeffe owned two homes in the Chama River valley north of Santa Fe. She bought the first one at the Ghost Ranch in 1940 and the second one in the village of Abiquiu in 1945. She occupied both until 1984, when she moved to Santa Fe. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum owns and preserves these historic properties.
O’Keeffe’s compound in Abiquiu was in ruins when she purchased it from the Catholic Church. For the next four years, she supervised its restoration and converted it to a livable adobe home and studio with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The Abiquiu Home and Studio is open for tours by appointment.

Approximately 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe, the Ghost Ranch house is surrounded by the stunning landscape that inspired her art for more than 40 years. The Ghost Ranch home is not currently open to the public.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s distinctive flower paintings, New Mexico desert landscapes and images of animal skulls made her an icon of American Modernism.  Her technique of magnifying and focusing on the details of objects can be seen in her most famous paintings:  Black Iris III; Cow’s Skull: Red, White and Blue; and Jimson Weed, White Flower No. 1.

Black Iris III 1926
Cow's Skull Red, White, and Blue 1931
Jimson Weed, White Flower No. 1 1926

In addition to her focus on the New Mexico landscape, O’Keeffe explored the imagery associated with the Catholic Church in northern New Mexico. O’Keeffe’s paintings of churches and crosses illustrate her fascination with the spiritual in art. Her paintings of the Ranchos de Taos church outside Taos, New Mexico are some of her most recognizable images.

Black Cross with Stars and Blue 1929


Ranchos Church No. 1, 1929
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe opened to the public in 1997, eleven years after her death. Several pieces of Georgia O’Keeffe’s artwork are included in the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC.

In 2014, Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting, Jimson Weed, sold for $44,405,000, more than three times the previous world auction price for any female artist.

Today, Georgia O’Keeffe is considered one of the top artists in the world.