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Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern

March 3–July 23, 2017

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864–1946). Georgia O’Keeffe, circa 1920–22. Gelatin silver print, 41/2 x 31/2 in. (11.4 x 9 cm). Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, N.M.; Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, 2003.01.006. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

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Could you tell me more about this painting? 
This watercolor is one in a series.  As you can see, O'Keeffe distilled the image more and more over the course of the series. This comes from a time in her career when she only worked in abstraction. O'Keeffe had abandoned her academic training and retaught herself to paint in order to more faithfully represent the ideas she had in her head. At first, she only worked in black and white; blue was the first color she reintroduced.
Was O'Keeffe doing abstractions at the same time she was doing fashion watercolor?
Yes. Georgia O'Keeffe was making drawings in the style of fashion illustrations as she taught art. She used them as part of her curriculum. At the same time, in 1916 and 1917, she was also experimenting with abstraction. This period was certainly a time of experimentation in her artistic career.
How does this painting relate to Stieglitz and O'Keeffe's relationship?
The curator has interpreted the shapes of the two archways in the bridge as two people. This was the last painting O'Keeffe made in New York, her farewell to the city and to her late husband. She was only back in NYC for one last visit to settle his affairs. And to me, personally, the way she rendered the cables resembles the sweeping capes they both wore in the 1920s and 1930s.
An interesting aside that makes this painting kind of funny: Stieglitz was a little bit old-fashioned in that, he didn't trust this new-fangled suspension bridge and thought the Brooklyn Bridge would fall down!
Why did O'Keeffe paint this scene? 
There's a reason that this painting looks so much like an aerial view of a river, despite how abstract it is. When Georgia O'Keeffe started traveling extensively later in her life, she would sketch out plane windows.
Though the colors are altered, you can see a desert river, with fiery orange land around it, clearly in this painting. She said of these aerial views, "There's nothing abstract about those pictures; they are what I saw—and very realistic to me. I must say I changed the color to suit myself, but after all you can see any color you want when you look out the window."
Looks like stained glass.
Great observation!! The architect of the bridge was intentionally referencing the pointed Gothic arch, like those found in cathedrals.
Lovely bridge. I read a book about its construction. Thanks for your input.
Inspired by Dali?
I can see the similarities, but I don't think that O'Keeffe took a lot of influence from other artists at this point in her career. In fact, Dali didn't paint a lot of objects floating in the sky until the 1950s, decades after this work by O'Keeffe.
The red hills in the background were a landscape in New Mexico near her ranch that she visited and painted over and over again. The skull was collected during many of her walks in the desert and the flower she picked from her garden. Though pasted together, the individual elements of the painting are rooted in reality.
Tell me more.
This early watercolor by O'Keeffe is a great example of her move into abstraction. Although trained in more traditional styles of painting, O'Keeffe went into a modernist direction with these works. I just love the purity of shape and color. The blue is so vibrant.
What flower is this?
That is a pansy with forget-me-nots behind. This painting was included in O'Keeffe's first solo museum show, held right here at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927!
Are these watercolor from the original 1916 Stieglitz exhibition of her work?
These are just slightly later than the charcoal drawings included in that first exhibition at his gallery. But these blue watercolors would have been very similar in forms and style to those charcoal abstractions that Steiglitz first saw.
At this point in her career, and when Stieglitz had first seen her work, she had abandoned all of her academic and decided to create purely from her imagination. She favored abstraction during this period
Why is the paper wrinkled? Caused by the paint?
Yes! The water in the watercolors saturated this relatively thin paper and caused it to wrinkle against the dry part of the paper.
The thickness and varying tones of the brushstrokes suggests that O'Keeffe used a great deal of water when creating this watercolor painting.
This is such a lovely work.
The Blue series is an early example of Georgia O'Keeffe's experimentation with abstraction. Here you can see her taking cues from her teacher Arthur Wesley Dow, who taught her to "fill space in a beautiful way."
It seems that O'Keeffe was determined to break down forms into their most basic colors and shape. It also appears that her quest was not to address a literal observance but rather a philosophical comment.
Absolutely. She would also begin with creating a more naturalistic image but, though returning time and again, she would turn it into something abstract; distilling it.
She once said, "The love of accomplishment is my true reward. I have but one desire as a painter—that is to paint what I see, as I see it, in my own way, without regard for the desires or taste of the professional dealer or the professional collector."
Tell me more.
O'Keeffe has commented on this painting saying that the composition "just sort of grew together." She had collected the rams head skull from one of her walks in the desert and the white hollyhock flower from among the vegetables in her garden. One of her beloved New Mexico landscapes provides the background.
Why are the horns so big?
They are actually true to real-life proportions, in relation to the skull, but they do look large in comparison to the hills below. O'Keeffe went for walks in the desert and collected bones that she took home to her ranch and used them as props in the studio.
Could you please tell me more about this painting?
This painting brings together a few of O'Keeffe's favorite subjects: desert bones, flowers, clouds, and the New Mexico landscape. She even designed this frame specially to complement the rolling hills!
Why was she interested in painting bones?
When O'Keeffe first moved to New Mexico, she was struck by how there were few flowers so many bones in the landscape. She began to collect them and took them home to use a subjects in her paintings. She said, "The bones do not symbolize death to me. They are shapes that I enjoy." She especially liked bones with holes that she could hold up and view the blue sky through. 
What was the public reaction to Georgia O'Keeffe's first show in this museum?
She was already well known in the New York City art world and beyond by the opening of her first museum show at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927. We know the critics viewed the exhibition positively. We don't have any record of the public reaction, but in general, her paintings were popular at the time.
In this picture the trees look very rubbery and flexible; did she intend this and is this what the trees in the west looked like?
Great question! I know that painting was completed in New Mexico and that the trees are depicted with stylization, but unfortunately, I don't have information on what type of tree they may be. However, I believe it is a combination of the realistic soft coloration of trees in the desert and O'Keeffe's Modernist style that make them look rubbery or flexible.
I am re-reading this exchange you had with my 11 year old daughter and I just want to thank you for this service. It certainly engaged her in the art.
How wonderful to hear! That makes us happy.
These seem quite different than the flowers she is known for.
Definitely! In these, and a few other of O'Keeffe's early series you can see her process of abstraction. She starts with an image in mind, perhaps based on something she saw and then, as she continues to paint it over and over again, she distills the image down to its most abstract representation.
It is a very different process from her flower paintings. O'Keeffe's abstract works were created during a sort of cleansing period where she abandoned her academic training and started from scratch, exploring and discovering who she was as a painter. She then had a fresh approach when she returned to making representational works, like the flowers or her New Mexico landscapes which she becomes known for.
Was this painting typical of O'Keeffe's work? 
This painting is very typical of O'Keeffe's New Mexico paintings. She was so inspired by the landscape and the work she did there always has  a sense of place.
This one, specifically, exemplifies her  use of color. She said of New Mexico: "All the earth colors of the painter's palette are out there in the many miles of badlands."
What do you think about the flower in this painting?
Definitely one of my favorites in the exhibit. All of the elements of this painting were inspired by real New Mexican landscapes and objects O'Keeffe would encounter on her many strolls through the desert.
Those "Red Hills" in the background, for example were a landscape that O'Keeffe would come back to in here work over and over again and they were an actual place in the landscape that you could visit.
But then there is just a flower floating beside the skull/horns. Were flowers like this found in the area as well or is it an element that is borrowed from something else in her life?
The ram's head she collected on one of her walks and the hollyhock flower was growing in her vegetable garden!
The blue is amazing! 
This is such an interesting landscape by O'Keeffe. Even though it was made in New Mexico, it reminds me of her earlier flower and plant paintings. I love that the brilliant blue sky is just beyond the dark trees. 
Looks like hair follicles growing out of skin.
What an interesting perspective! I hadn't seen it that way before but now I do!
Where was this painting exhibited?
This work is actually a part of the Brooklyn Museum's collection and has been in various exhibitions the museum has organized over the years, from 1989 to 2017!
Do you know if she was on the Brooklyn Bridge when she was painting this?
That is an excellent question! We know she created the painting in her studio and not "en plein air" at the bridge itself. She rode across the bridge several times in a car and may have made sketches "on site."
Tell me more.
This painting by Georgia O'Keeffe is representative of the kinds of visuals that attracted her in New Mexico, the bright blue sky and red-brown landscape.
You may also notice how she pays special attention to "filling the space in a beautiful way," according to the teachings of one of her teachers, Arthur Wesley Dow. She focuses heavily on the positive and negative space.
Did she explain her liking of ram skulls?
The skulls were very closely linked to her admiration of the New Mexico landscape.
The animals, the hills, the weather conditions and sky were all part of the landscape that called "my country." These hills were the view from her desert ranch.
Thank you. Did she hunt?
She did have guns at her ranch. We have descriptions of her killing rattlesnakes!
That's really cool.
I love this series of paintings. Is there an order? Simple to more complex? Or the other way?
I agree, these are so wonderful and show how O'Keeffe was working in abstraction very early on! They progress from complex to simple.
This was a turning point in her career, when she decided to abandon her academic training and work purely from her imagination.
Ok thanks! Love the whole exhibit!
Can you tell me about this?
O'Keeffe really had an ability to capture the feeling of a place through her use of color.
In this work, O'Keeffe is showing her interest in nature despite moving away from the flower paintings of the earlier part of the 1920s. Here she's still making the delicate details of the leaves much larger than they'd appear in real life.
Very interesting.
The pair of leaves reminds me of her still life paintings, which often involve two objects chosen for their shape and color. And the yellows here are really fantastic!
Yes, I love the shades of yellow!
There is also such a sense of depth in the painting, it almost looks like the leaves are three-dimensional.
Were O'Keeffe's early abstractions meant to have humanoid elements?
Great question! These were made at a point in her career when the artist was consciously moving away from representational imagery. It could be that they privately represented people or real situations, but she intentionally cloaked them in abstraction.
She said, "I found that I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say in any other way—things that I had no words for."
Thank you so much!
Was O'Keeffe living in New Mexico when she painted this?
This painting dates from the time when O'Keeffe was enamored with the Southwest but still spending time in New York. The flower is a great callback to her earlier works and is one that grew in New Mexico.
I just love how the skull floats over the landscape. O'Keeffe was drawn to bones because of their shape. She often collected objects while exploring the landscape. Bones were scattered about the desert and she would bring them to her studio.
The bones are really interesting. And she brings them to life.
Is the frame supposed to reference some sort of floral or nature-based motif? Kind of seems to go more so along with her floral paintings...
Those curves fit into her general aesthetic of using simplified geometric forms.
In this painting they  seem to echo the forms of the clouds and rolling hills, plus the petals of that white rose!
Why did O'Keeffe use bones in her art? 
O'Keeffe began collecting bones, and using them in her paintings, when she first visited New Mexico. She found them visually interesting and she liked the organic shapes. She said about the bones, " The bones do not symbolize death to me. They are shapes that I enjoy. It never occurs to me that they have anything to do with death. They're very lively. . . .They please me, and I have enjoyed them very much in relation to the sky."
Any relationship to paintings by Brice Marden?
I definitely see why you would ask that! It does have a similar aesthetic. To my knowledge, his works in this style were produced after O'Keeffe had already died.
The thing I find interesting about this work is the high altitude perspective. This is really the opposite of her usual approach of blowing up one small detail of an object.
However the result is the same: abstraction!
Yes and Marden might have been influenced by this perhaps. Thank you this is wonderful!
Tell me more.
Around the time that Georgia O'Keeffe painted these watercolors, she was just reintroducing color to her work. She had abandoned her academic training and was only working in black and white abstraction. She was interested in reteaching herself to paint in order to more faithfully represent the ideas that she had in her head rather than what she saw in the real world.
She said: "I realized that I had a lot of things in my head that others didn't have. I made up my mind to put down what was in my head."
How did O'Keeffe choose her subjects?
O'Keeffe was often inspired by her environment and objects that she found in it. You can perceive a sense of place from a lot of her work. She would paint fall foliage in Lake George, or shells collected from along the shores of a beach in Bermuda, or bones collected from her walks in the New Mexico desert.
So my better half has a question: is there a connection between O'Keeffe's oil painting"Blue II" and "Blue 1-4"?
They aren't part of the same series, but during this time in her career she was exploring abstraction and working with black, white, and blue, which is why they are so similar!
The color blue features prominently in her work throughout her career, including her New Mexico paintings of the 1930s onwards.
This is such an interesting painting! 
This watercolor was painted at a time in O'Keeffe's career when she decided to abandon her academic training and paint from her imagination. This was innovative at a time when her peers were focused on "copying" reality. 
Can you identify from which side of the bridge she painted this?
We actually don't know! She has "zoomed in" on this section of the bridge, instead of giving us a panoramic view. She's more interested in the bridge itself than its setting.
Why do these watercolors all look so much alike?
Great question! They were a part of a series that shows O'Keeffe's process of abstraction at the early time in her career. Looking from #1 to #4, you can see how she moves from something more detailed as related to natural forms such as plants, to something completely abstract.
Along the way, she is removing elements and distilling the the work down to its most essential forms. During this time in her career, O'Keeffe had decided to abandon her academic training and paint purely from her imagination.
We thought it was the opposite...
Meaning going from the most abstract to the most "realistic"; right to left?
That is very interesting, you are one of the first guests I've encountered who has read it that way.
At that time, many artists were concerned with painting and recreating things as they were in the real world. What makes O'Keefe's early work so modern is that she rejected this idea of what art was supposed to be at the time and, encouraged by her teacher Arthur Dow, decided to focus on filling a space beautifully.
This kind of simplicity is reflected in her wardrobe as I'm sure you will see as you continue in the exhibition.
Thanks for letting us know!
How does this painting fit into O'Keeffe's broader career? 
This was the last painting O'Keeffe made in New York City, a farewell to its architecture and so many other things in her life. It is interesting, though, that this work incorporates the kind of blue sky that also appears over and over in New Mexico paintings.
Would you say O'Keeffe was influenced by surrealism?
She was certainly aware of surrealism, but I'm not sure how much it influenced her art. Most works by O'Keeffe---even her abstract canvases---are rooted in the natural world.
In one interview with Katherine Kuh, she said, "I was in the surrealist show when I'd never heard of surrealism. I'm not a joiner." By the 1940s, I'm sure she was aware of certain Surrealist exhibitions being held in New York. However, she'd begun working in this style by the 1920s, playing with scale and space and cropping.
She was more directly influenced by photography, like the work of Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Imogen Cunningham, to name just a few. And once she started visiting New Mexico, she was strongly affected by the different ways of seeing she gained there --- due to the new perspectives of such wide vast distances.
I also like thinking about the relationship between these paintings and the clothing and the objects she used to decorate her home. Her life as a total work of art!
My daughters want to know if this painting is inspired by geodes.
That's a really interesting thought! The curator thinks it's inspired by a landscape because some of the forms suggest trees and hills.
O'Keeffe was always inspired by the natural world, as you'll continue to see throughout the exhibition.
Interesting! Thanks so much!
What's going on here?
This is one of O'Keeffe's famous flower paintings! Even though many people read these paintings as being references to female sexual anatomy, O'Keeffe herself has said they were actually inspired by the rapid industrialization of New York City. She commented that skyscrapers and other tall buildings were going up so quickly in New York City that they demanded attention. Flowers on the other hand, while beautiful, were small and she wanted people to notice them. She said to herself, "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."
This one looks so much like a photograph. And, still with her signature floating flower.
That piece is actually part of the Brooklyn Museum's permanent collection! And the frame was designed by O'Keeffe. It includes so many of O'Keeffe's favorite images: the flower, of course, the skull, the clouds, and the hills!
From far away, I couldn't tell it was oil. I almost wanted to touch and feel it.
Her paintings do have a remarkably velvety quality.
The brushwork in this painting seems little bit different. Can you say anything about it?
I think the drier brushwork here reflects the objects themselves. She collected bones that had been bleached in the desert sun.
Thank you.
Of course! O'Keeffe found the bones in the desert to be beautiful and lively. The line work here reminds me of her more urban canvases, which reflected a more realist vein of the modernist style happening in NYC during that time.
Yes I can see that now! The brushwork doesn't seem as dry to my untrained eye as the other New Mexico bones which caused me to wonder.
Ah, I see, and agree! 
Could you please tell me the significance of the color blue for Georgia O'Keeffe?
We're not aware of her assigning any particular symbolism to the color, but we do know that it was a true favorite of hers. It was the first color that she reintroduced into her work after a period of working only in black and white.
Watercolors like these were part of her process of reteaching herself to paint after abandoning her academic training in an effort to more faithfully represent the ideas that she had in her head.
Thank you!
Why was O'Keeffe interested in bones?
Once she started spending time in New Mexico, O'Keeffe began walking the desert and collecting sun-bleached bones like the rib and jaw you see here.
A statement she wrote in 1939 included these lines: "I have wanted to paint the desert and I haven't known how. I always think that I can not stay with it long enough. So I brought home the bleached bones as my symbols of the desert. To me they are as beautiful as anything I know. . . .The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the desert."
Did she have a method of working such as doing preliminary drawings then going into the studio to paint the image?
Yes, she did. O'Keeffe would travel to the sites, sometimes camping there overnight, and made sketches and sometimes took photographs. She would often return to the same places and paint them time and again.
Please tell me about this?
O'Keeffe made these paintings at a turning point in her artistic career. She decided to abandon all her academic training and try to create something purely from her imagination. This was an innovative approach in 1916, when many artists were still trying to represent the human figure, landscapes, and other recognizable subjects in a very detailed, polished style.
She was following the example of her teacher Arthur Wesley Dow, who encouraged young artists to think about "filling a space in a beautiful way" rather than telling a story or copying reality. She was also familiar with the work of European avant-garde artists like Vassily Kandinsky and Henri Matisse, who saw color and form as important in themselves, acting as powerful vehicles of emotion and meaning.
As you move through the exhibition (although maybe you have already made it through the whole show?), keep these simple, flowing shapes in mind. They may come up again! Also, think about the color blue, because you'll see it re-appear about halfway through the show.
This reminds me of a painting by Joseph Stella.
The bridge was definitely a popular subject for artists living in NYC after its completion in 1883, and Joseph Stella did include it in several of his best-known paintings! O'Keeffe's version focuses on the cables and the cropped perspective, rather than a panoramic view of the city.
Does this painting have a religious meaning? 
You are not the first visitor to compare this painting to religious architecture! The pointed arches of the Brooklyn Bridge are, indeed, quite Gothic. Like many of O'Keeffe's paintings, this is a unique viewpoint and also an unusual way to crop the bridge. Her methods of abstraction are part of what make her work so interesting!
What is raking light?
Raking light means that light is being pointed at something at a very shallow angle, thus creating a lot of shadow. The setting sun applies raking light to the earth. I'm curious, what did you see that made you ask that?
I just went to a gallery tour and the guide mentioned raking light in reference to this painting.
I see! Raking light is frequently used by conservators to examine subtle 3-dimensionality in surfaces. The rises and falls of a painting's surface can tell a lot about it!
I love this painting!
I love this painting, too! So many of O'Keeffe's works are so abstract because she felt that nature itself was so abstract. This was inspired by the view from an airplane.
She said herself: "There's nothing abstract about those pictures; they are what I saw—and very realistic to me. I must say I changed the color to suit myself, but after all you can see any color you want when you look out the window."
Tell me more.
In this leaf painting by Georgia O'Keeffe I recommend taking a look at the details along the edges of the leaves. While she focused on shape and color, her still lifes maintained a good amount of detail: The same attention to detail you can see in her clothing nearby. Notice how the veins and organic edges mirror the detailing on her blouses. She had the same attention to detail in all areas of life, including her clothing and the decoration of her homes.
Tell me more.
This painting of the Brooklyn Bridge was one of O'Keeffe's last paintings before she moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949. After construction on the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883, it became a popular subject for artists in the city, and a symbol of modernity. Georgia O'Keeffe tapped into this trend, while also deploying her own interest in shape and color in her painting.
What made Georgia O'Keeffe's early work so "modern"?
I think a great quote to start with to understand O'Keeffe's modernism comes from the artist herself: "I realized that I had a lot of things in my head that others didn't have. I made up my mind to put down what was in my head."
O'Keeffe made these watercolors at a turning point in her artistic career. She decided to abandon all her academic training and try to create something purely from her imagination. This was an innovative approach in 1916, when many artists were still trying to represent the human figure, landscapes, and other recognizable subjects in a very detailed, polished style.
This is a beautiful painting! 
This work was actually featured in the first solo museum exhibition of O'Keeffe's art, which took place here at the Brooklyn Museum! She was inspired to paint her flowers this way by the tall buildings and skyscrapers going up in NYC at the time. She felt that flowers painted at this scale would make people stop and take notice.
It's stunning. The details. The blue and black colors. The scale of the flowers.
This painting was included in O'Keeffe's first museum show held here at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927. It combines two of the things O'Keeffe was most known for: her flower paintings and her affinity for black and white!
Somehow having the perspective so zoomed in makes the flower seem almost alien. She wanted us to feel like we'd never really looked closely at a flower before.
Is the metallic frame a choice of hers or was it added by a previous owner?
O'Keeffe sometimes designed frames for her own paintings, like this one! The scalloped edge pairs nicely with the shapes in the landscape.
Thank you!
What's going on here?
This painting incorporates some of O'Keeffe's most iconic imagery: the bleached bones she collected in the desert, the desert itself, and a flower. She began painting all these subjects while still living in New York, when she would bring the objects she collected in New Mexico back to her studio in the city to paint. This painting was made during the time when she still lived in New York, but periodically visited New Mexico.
Tell me more.
This is a great example of how O'Keeffe would enlarge an everyday object to the point of near abstraction! This was one of the paintings that was included in O'Keeffe's first solo museum show, held here at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927!
Tell me more!
"Black Pansy & Forget-Me-Nots (Pansy)" was shown at the first solo museum show O'Keeffe ever had, right here at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927. It incorporates several elements that would quickly become signature motifs in O'Keeffe's artwork and persona. Among these are the close-up image, larger than life floral subject, and her frequent use of black and white in the painting. The scale of this and other floral paintings by the artist is no accident. As she said herself, "—in a way—nobody sees a flower---really—it is so small—we haven't time. . . .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."
Tell me more.
This is the last in a series of four watercolors. You can see her approach become more abstracted over the course of the series. This was a turning point in O'Keeffe's career when she was reteaching herself how to paint. She abandoned all her training and began again, first only in black and white and then incorporating one color---blue. She was following her teacher Arthur Dow's philosophy of "filling a space in a beautiful way" rather than telling a story or copying reality.
I love how this piece gives you a close up of her subject in a real concrete way. I feel like I am in her studio with her.
Terrific observation! I agree that the close cropping of the image makes it feel accessible. As you may have noticed, close-ups and cropping were some of the methods O'Keeffe used to abstract recognizable forms.
This looks like a bridge!
Good call! This painting of the Brooklyn Bridge was the last painting O'Keeffe made in New York City before leaving for New Mexico for good.
What was flower art like before O'Keeffe?
Typically, artists before her were fascinated in flowers as almost scientific objects of the natural world, or as metaphors and symbols, and they depicted them accordingly.
She instead wanted to depict the flowers as she saw them, including the emotional power in each flower, and she did so by abstracting it.
Could you please tell me more about this painting? 
Hi! This is a great example of how O'Keeffe was inspired by nature to create paintings that showed single items as she saw them. Here she takes two leaves and makes them very large. Like with her flower paintings, she is making viewers stop and notice these small, everyday aspects of nature.
Oil or watercolor?
This is oil on canvas. 
This painting was included in O'Keeffe's first solo museum show, right here at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927!
From across the room, I thought "Dali," which no doubt demonstrates my complete ignorance!
You may be the first visitor to mention the Dali comparison, but I totally see it! A skull floating in the sky above a deserted landscape. When you get close you can see the signature O'Keeffe style though! She once said, I"I was in a surrealist show when I'd never heard of surrealism."
As you may have noticed, O'Keeffe loved to paint skulls, flowers, clouds, and desert landscapes...and here she put them all together! She even designed this frame especially for this painting.
This is a wonderful app!
Can you tell me more about this painting?
"Black Pansy & Forget-Me-Nots (Pansy)" has a lot of history here at the Museum.
The work was included in O'Keeffe's first museum show, which was held here at the Museum in 1927. At the time, the painting was owned by a private collection. O'Keeffe suggested that the collector donate the painting after the show closed!
She's said about her flower paintings, "—in a way—nobody sees a flower---really—it is so small—we haven't time. . . .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."
Thank you!
What is this about? 
In "Ram's Head, White Hollyhock Hills" you can really see how O'Keeffe began to collect a list of subjects that she was interested in painting, from the bleached bones of the desert to her signature flowers and the desert itself.
The frame was also designed by O'Keeffe to go with this painting. You can see how the scalloped edge mirrors the shapes of the clouds in the sky.
Can you tell me more about the subjects in this painting?
This is "Ram's Head, White Hollyhock---Hills". It features several of O'Keeffe's main motifs: the New Mexican landscape, where she spent summers and the latter half of her life; bones, which she would collect in the desert; and flowers. The flower here, the hollyhock, was actually a plant that grew in O'Keeffe's garden in New Mexico. She was often inspired by the environment around her, both the landscapes and objects she would find in it.
She also designed the frame for this piece herself! 
Why did she choose to paint this?
This painting brings together a few of O'Keeffe's favorite motifs. You may have noticed throughout the show that she painted many skulls, flowers, New Mexico landscapes, and clouds.
Overall, O'Keeffe was always inspired by nature and her surroundings. When she painted this she was living in New Mexico and spending a great deal of time in the desert.
Were these watercolors done after the first charcoals she sent to Stieglitz?
These came slightly later. She went through a period where she had abandoned all of her formal training and was only working with abstractions. She worked exclusively in charcoals for a while (including the drawings that Stieglitz saw) and only reintroduced one color, blue, when she felt ready.
Got it!
I'm a framer and I have never seen these frames. I was wondering if she had a particular framer?
O'Keeffe designed the frame for "Ram's Head, White Hollyhock" herself!  When she was in New York, she worked with a framemaker named George Of who frequently collaborated with artists at Alfred Stieglitz's galleries.
Why the repetition of blue in these four watercolors?
O'Keeffe often worked in series, producing multiple interpretations of the same subject often with increased reduction in details.
Compare the four watercolors from 1 to 4, notice how it starts with the suggestion of a landscape and progresses to simple lines and curves.
Can you tell me about this?
This is a wonderful example of the work O'Keeffe produced after encountering the landscape of New Mexico.
O'Keeffe was inspired by shapes and colors of the landscape in the American Southwest, after years of living in the New York area. While exploring, she would pick up animal bones that were scattered around the desert.
The way the skull hovers over the landscape really evokes the idea of the desert to me. How about you?
Agreed. It's haunting.
It really is! O'Keeffe was drawn to bones because of their shape, in a similar fashion to how she saw flowers in the Northeast. 
This painting is a little different.
Yes! It's a departure from O'Keeffe's other work, neither a still life nor a landscape, but a combination of the two genres.. She collected the skull on one of her many walks throughout the desert, the flower was picked from her garden, and the red hills could be seen from her home.
I'm wondering if we know what type of bones these are--I know she painted cow skulls, so i'm wondering if these might be from the same group of bones she used for those works?
I can't be positive of the species of the bones, but all the bones she painted were ones that she found in the desert in New Mexico, so it has to be something that lived there. The Museum also has one of her paintings of a ram's skull.
It seems that she didn't only study nature but also perhaps weather and astronomy.
She was so observant and seemed to draw inspiration from all aspects of the natural world. "Green, Yellow, and Orange," for example, was inspired by what she saw out the window of an airplane.
No question, just a comment:  I love the beautiful symmetry and asymmetry of this painting.
Hi! Thanks for sharing! Many people share your love of O'Keeffe's farewell painting to New York. One scholar even compares the two sides to a double portrait of O'Keeffe and Stieglitz.
Yes, I can see that!
By all accounts, O'Keeffe was glad to finally leave New York behind for good. I think you can see her happiness in the blueness of the sky and how similar it is to the way she painted the sky in New Mexico.
Why do O'Keeffe's flower paintings usually have dark color?
That's a great question. The artist does seem to have had a preference for strong contrasts and deep hues at some times. However, she did also paint flowers in vibrant reds, yellows, blues, and other colors!
Can you tell me about this?
"Green, Yellow, and Orange" was inspired by a flight in an airplane. O'Keeffe was truly mesmerized by the abstraction of the earth as seen from the sky.
She said herself: "There's nothing abstract about those pictures; they are what I saw—and very realistic to me. I must say I changed the color to suit myself, but after all you can see any color you want when you look out the window."
Tell me more!
I love these realistic leaf paintings! The curator would like to encourage you to observe the carefully rendering of the edges of these leaves with the incredibly precise stitches on the nearby blouses O'Keeffe made herself.
I also think it's interesting to note that O'Keeffe, in painting these leaves, was keeping with her nature inspirations, but moving away from the flowers that she is so well known for.
As you may know, many viewers drew comparisons between the flowers and female anatomy, which O'Keeffe did not appreciate.
What is the metaphor of flower and skull together?
The combination of the skull and flower here might not have a metaphorical meaning. Many of O'Keeffe's paintings involved a combination of objects that reflected the landscape she was living in.
She would collect the bones while walking around the Southwest and, when this work was painted, take them back to New York. She liked painting bones because of their shape. The flower, hollyhock, was one that O'Keeffe picked from a garden at Ghost Ranch.
O'Keeffe has said, "The first year I was out here [New Mexico], because there were no flowers, I began picking up bones. Well, if I wanted to take something home, I wanted to take something home to work on."
Tell me more.
This is one the most interesting works, in my opinion, in the exhibition. I'm interested to know why it caught your eye.
This work was actually inspired by a flight in an airplane. O'Keeffe was interested in the way that both the distance and aerial perspective created a sort of "natural" abstraction.
She said herself: "There's nothing abstract about those pictures; they are what I saw—and very realistic to me. I must say I changed the color to suit myself, but after all you can see any color you want when you look out the window."
When I learned that, I could imagine a meandering river, surrounded by fields and forests.
The colors first caught my eye. I love the American West from a plane.
Ah yes! It could even be the reds and oranges of the desert earth and gorges or valleys cut through the rock.