Georgia O'Keeffe Country
“When I got to New Mexico that was mine. As soon as I saw it that was my country. It fitted to me exactly.” –Georgia O’Keeffe to her husband and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, 1940
There has never been much debate about Georgia O’Keeffe’s merit as an artist. Her use of color, line, and space has made her one of the inarguable masters of American art. But seeing her paintings in the setting that inspired them reveals yet another layer of her artistic genius.
Morning Sky with Houses by Georgia O'Keeffe. 1916. Watercolor and graphite on paper. 8 7/8 x 12 in. Gift of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation. Copyright Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
This is part of the magic of visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in downtown Santa Fe. Two blocks from the city’s historic plaza, it holds 3,000 of the artist’s paintings, sketches, and sculptures---the largest single collection of O’Keeffe’s work. There are early watercolors, paintings of cityscapes from her time in New York, and of course, the Southwestern landscapes and flora for which she is best known. Remnants of her daily life are also on view, from her work clothes and camping gear to beautiful portraits taken by her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz.
Purple Hills Ghost Ranch -2/Purple Hills No II by Georgia O'Keeffe. 1934. Oil on canvas affixed to Masonite. 16 1/4 x 20 1/4 in. Gift of The Burnett Foundation. Copyright Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
But step outside the adobe walls of the museum---or better yet, drive through Abiquiu, where O’Keeffe had a house and studio---and it becomes clear just how brilliantly O’Keeffe was able to capture the Southwest. The cobalt skies, the incredible vastness, the painted cliffs, the surprising color of a flower amid the desert…O’Keeffe was somehow able to convey all this both in aesthetic and emotional terms. She expressed not only the beauty of New Mexico, but what it feels like to be in this incredible corner of the world, using her oils and watercolors to visually map the spirit of the place.
As she herself said, Georgia O'Keeffe did make New Mexico her own. It was her country, and thanks to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, now it's ours as well.