Georgia O’Keeffe, The Essence of Nature – A Journey Through Her Creative Process at MoMA

Georgia O’Keeffe. Evening Star No. II, 1917. Watercolor on paper. 8 3/4 × 12″ (22.2 × 30.5 cm). Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photography by Dwight Primiano. © 2022 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Discover the captivating world of Georgia O’Keeffe’s artistry at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. This comprehensive exhibition, housed on Floor 3, South 3 in The Edward Steichen Galleries, showcases her extraordinary body of work in various mediums, providing a rare and immersive insight into her creative process. A journey through the life and career of one of America’s most iconic artists.

Overview of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Art

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was a pioneering American artist known for her modernist paintings, particularly her distinctive flower paintings and landscapes. O’Keeffe’s work is characterized by her exploration of observation and abstraction, as well as her use of various mediums, such as charcoal, pencil, watercolor, and pastel.

Signature Subjects and Styles

Georgia O’Keeffe. An Orchid, 1941. Pastel on paper mounted on board. 27 5/8 x 21 3/4″ (70.2 x 55.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe, 1990. © 2022 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Flower Paintings

O’Keeffe is perhaps best known for her close-up, large-scale depictions of flowers. These works are characterized by their bold colors, sensual shapes, and focus on the intricate details of petals and stamens. By enlarging and abstracting the floral forms, she aimed to encourage viewers to see the beauty and complexity of nature in a new light.


O’Keeffe’s love for the American Southwest, particularly New Mexico, inspired many of her landscape paintings. She often depicted the region’s striking desert landscapes, rock formations, and expansive skies with an abstracted style, focusing on the essence of the scene rather than the exact details. Her work frequently captured the spiritual and emotional connection she felt with the land.

Cityscapes and Skyscrapers

Although less known for her cityscapes, O’Keeffe produced a series of paintings depicting the skyscrapers of New York City during the 1920s and 1930s. These works showcased her interest in exploring the contrast between the natural world and the urban environment, often highlighting the monumental scale and verticality of the architecture.


Throughout her career, O’Keeffe experimented with abstraction, creating non-representational and semi-abstract works that conveyed her emotional response to her subjects. These works often featured organic forms, bold color choices, and a focus on line and composition, showcasing her ability to capture the essence of a subject without relying on realistic representation.

Mediums and Artistic Vision

Georgia O’Keeffe. Blue Lines X, 1916. Watercolor and pencil on paper, 25 × 19″ (63.5 × 48.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1969. © 2023 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

O’Keeffe employed a variety of mediums in her work, each contributing to her overall artistic vision.


  • Early in her career, O’Keeffe experimented with charcoal, creating a series of abstract drawings that caught the attention of photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz. Her charcoal drawings showcased her ability to convey emotion through line and form, even without the use of color.


  • O’Keeffe frequently used pencil for preliminary sketches and studies, as well as finished works. Her pencil drawings often displayed her keen observational skills and attention to detail, capturing the subtleties of her subjects’ forms and textures.


  • O’Keeffe’s watercolor paintings are characterized by their fluidity and transparency. She employed the medium to create delicate, luminous effects, often using soft washes of color to build up layers and depth in her work.


Pastels allowed O’Keeffe to explore vibrant colors and create rich, velvety textures in her paintings. She often used pastels to depict the bold colors and forms of her signature flower paintings and Southwestern landscapes.

In conclusion, Georgia O’Keeffe’s art is characterized by her innovative approaches to subject matter, her exploration of abstraction and observation, and her versatile use of different mediums. Her flower paintings, landscapes, and cityscapes, as well as her abstract works, continue to inspire and influence artists and viewers alike.

During the period of 1915-1918, American artist Georgia O’Keeffe experienced a prolific phase of experimentation in her artistic career, which would go on to define her work for decades to come. This period was marked by the creation of numerous works on paper, including bold lines, organic landscapes, frank nudes, and the radically abstract charcoals that she referred to as “specials.”

O’Keeffe was introduced to the principles of Arthur Wesley Dow during her time at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she studied art education. Dow’s teachings encouraged her to explore a more abstract approach to her work, focusing on composition and the arrangement of line, color, and shape. This led her to break away from traditional representational art and develop her unique style.

Bold Lines

  • O’Keeffe’s experimentation with bold lines became a hallmark of her work. During this period, she produced striking, minimalistic drawings that often used a single line to depict the subject. These powerful lines expressed the essence of the objects or scenes she portrayed, emphasizing their form and structure.

Organic Landscapes

  • O’Keeffe’s landscapes from this period are characterized by their organic, flowing shapes, as well as her use of color and form to convey emotion. Her work captured the essence of the natural world, from the vast New Mexican desert to the rolling hills of upstate New York. She often used soft, rounded shapes and a limited color palette to create a sense of harmony and unity in her compositions.

Frank Nudes

  • During this period, O’Keeffe created a series of frank, unapologetic nudes that were considered quite radical for their time. These works depicted the female form with confidence, celebrating its natural beauty and sensuality. O’Keeffe’s nudes were a statement of female empowerment and an exploration of her own identity as a woman and an artist.


  • The radically abstract charcoals O’Keeffe produced during this period were dubbed “specials” by the artist. These works are characterized by their dramatic, almost otherworldly, compositions that defy easy categorization. They often consist of sweeping, rhythmic lines and shapes that suggest movement, energy, and emotion. O’Keeffe’s “specials” were a testament to her mastery of abstraction and her willingness to push the boundaries of artistic expression.

O’Keeffe’s breakthrough period between 1915 and 1918 set the stage for her long and influential career. Her bold experimentation with form, line, and color allowed her to create an entirely new visual language that captured the essence of her subjects and continues to inspire artists today.

Georgia O’Keeffe, one of the most prominent American artists of the 20th century, is widely celebrated for her innovative approach to modern art and her dedication to working on paper. Throughout her career, O’Keeffe developed numerous series, focusing on specific themes and subjects, which she revisited time and time again. These series allowed her to capture the essence of the natural world and its rhythms in a deeply personal and engaging manner.

One of O’Keeffe’s most iconic series is her flower paintings from the 1930s. By zooming in on her subjects and enlarging them, she managed to capture the intricacies of flowers like irises, poppies, and petunias in a way that was both abstract and highly detailed. Her close-up perspective and her attention to the organic forms of flowers revealed the innate beauty and sensuality of these natural subjects.

In the 1940s, O’Keeffe’s focus shifted to portraiture, where she created a series of highly intimate and expressive works. Often featuring her friends and fellow artists, these portraits showcased the depth of her relationships and the connection she felt with her subjects. By choosing to work on paper, she was able to bring a more tactile and immediate quality to her portraits, making them feel like a true extension of her own experiences.

The 1950s marked another shift in O’Keeffe’s work, with a series dedicated to aerial views of landscapes. Inspired by her frequent travels in airplanes, these paintings captured the vastness and dynamism of the American Southwest from a bird’s-eye view. By working on paper, O’Keeffe was able to achieve a sense of fluidity and movement in her compositions, which mirrored the constantly changing landscapes she observed from above.

Throughout her career, Georgia O’Keeffe’s commitment to working on paper and her exploration of various themes in a series format allowed her to delve deeply into the subjects that captivated her. By experimenting with different techniques and approaches, she was able to capture not only the forms but also the rhythms of nature, creating a unique and enduring artistic legacy.

Capturing Nature’s Rhythms

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Unique Artistic Approach and Lasting Legacy

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was an American painter who played a crucial role in the development of American modernism. Known for her large-scale, highly detailed representations of nature, her unique artistic approach allowed her to capture the essence of nature’s rhythms. This innovative perspective contributed to her enduring legacy as a pioneering artist.

Spiraling Descent of the Sun

  • O’Keeffe had an incredible ability to convey the passage of time and the sun’s spiraling descent through her use of vivid pigments. Her paintings often showcased the rich colors of the sky at different times of the day, illustrating the sun’s journey from sunrise to sunset. By carefully selecting and applying colors, she created a sense of depth and movement in her work, allowing viewers to experience the sun’s progression through the sky.

Shifting Perspectives: Aerial Views from Airplane Windows

  • During the 1920s and 1930s, O’Keeffe started incorporating aerial views into her work, inspired by her experiences of seeing the world from an airplane window. This newfound perspective allowed her to depict the ever-changing landscapes and patterns found in nature. She often painted the earth’s surface as seen from above, using a variety of colors, shapes, and textures to convey the vastness and complexity of the natural world. This approach added a new dimension to her work, challenging the traditional ways of depicting landscapes and highlighting the interconnectedness of the earth’s elements.

Focusing on the Essence

  • O’Keeffe’s unique artistic approach went beyond the mere representation of nature’s forms. Instead, she sought to capture the essence of nature’s rhythms by focusing on the underlying structures, shapes, and patterns. This emphasis on abstraction and simplification of forms set her apart from her contemporaries and allowed her to create a distinctive style that resonated with viewers on a deeper level.

Lasting Legacy as a Pioneering Artist

Georgia O’Keeffe’s innovative approach to capturing nature’s rhythms and her willingness to explore new perspectives and techniques have solidified her legacy as a pioneering artist. By challenging traditional norms and pushing the boundaries of artistic expression, O’Keeffe inspired future generations of artists to explore new ways of engaging with the natural world. Her contributions to American modernism and the art world at large continue to be celebrated and admired, ensuring her lasting impact on the history of art.

Experience Georgia O’Keeffe’s Artistry at MoMA

Cover of Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time, published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2023.

Don’t miss the exceptional opportunity to witness the extraordinary work of Georgia O’Keeffe at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). This special exhibition showcases O’Keeffe’s creative process and artistic development by bringing together her works on paper and key paintings.

Exhibition Details:

🎨 Location: MoMA, Floor 3, 3 South, The Edward Steichen Galleries

📅 Dates: Now through August 12

This unique exhibition offers a rare glimpse into O’Keeffe’s working methods, highlighting the evolution of her artistic vision. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to immerse yourself in the world of one of America’s most iconic artists and see her work in a new light.

Whether you’re a fan of Georgia O’Keeffe or just discovering her work, this exhibition is a must-see. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by – plan your visit to MoMA today!

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