Georgia O’Keeffe’s Unintentional Sensuality

Georgia O’Keeffe married a photographer, Alfred Steiglitz. He took over 300 intimate pictures of her, including some nudes, and they were included in a gallery show. A short while later, she had her own exhibit, with paintings like those below, and her reputation as being overly sexual began. She was horrified and stunned by this response–this is simply how she saw nature. With colors, and openings, and softness.

mistaken sensuality

Her reaction was to abandon representational art and depict the obvious. A pear is a pear.


And her beloved flowers were merely that: flowers. But critics still assigned sexuality to them.

sexual flowers

So she gave up on the critics and painted what she felt. At first, it was flowers. She chose to enlarge flowers to put them at scale with the explosion of large buildings in New York during the 1920s. She presumed that people would be startled by such large flowers and be compelled to look. She was right.


A Love of the Land

My knowledge of Georgia O’Keeffe was limited to “sexual flowers.” Until visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, NM.

She spent summers in New Mexico from 1929 to 1949. After her husband’s death, she moved to the state full time, and stayed until she passed in 1986. Interestingly, Stieglitz never joined her there.

O’Keeffe had an intense emotional connection with nature and a compulsive need to create its equivalent in art.* She loved this mountain intensely, viewed from her property, and wrote to a friend that “G-d told me if I painted the mountain enough, He would give it to me.”

mtn gd will give her

So Giddy You Would Think I’m In Love

Exposure to these pieces was glorious for me. My happiness was emanating, no doubt.

She loved the land in a way that seems like my own. Seeing these pieces, I understand her art in a new way. The land may be tough, but she painted softly, the way I suppose it made her feel. It’s the way I perceive badlands and crevasses, cliffs and rock falls. I see their rigid strength, but mostly see their tender beauty.

my favorite

My favorite piece in the collection

O’Keeffe found the crevices and clouds, the hiding and the obvious, the shadows and the colors. I have never felt so connected to art.

Click the pick to advance the slideshow. “The cliffs over there are almost painted for you–you think–until you try.” (O’Keeffe to Perry Miller Adato, 1977)

No Signature

She didn’t sign her pieces, fearful of detracting from the art itself. So she signed on the back and put a star if she liked the piece! She chose the frames, sometimes abandoning them and using the canvas alone. All frames are minimalist, keeping the focus on the art.

Terrible Handwriting

Studying her letters, I had a sense of how people must struggle when they get a postcard from me. My handwriting is appalling–I like to think it’s a sign of my genius… Perhaps if I used a fountain pen (or is it a calligraphy pen, I can’t tell) like she does, I’ll be excused as artistic and not merely illegible.


Having visited this gallery, I can now answer the ridiculous question, which famous person would you most like to meet?

BTW–she was the most photographed woman of the 20th Century. Not just because of her husband’s work, but also because photographers traveled to be with her in her environment.



*Disclosure: this is a paraphrase of the Museum’s video and literature. They said it beautifully, and since they study her, I thought it best to stay in their chosen words.

Second Disclosure: Thank you to Santa Fe Tourism for the complimentary ticket to the museum.

4 Responses


I can see why you enjoyed the visit to the museum so much. It comes through in the blog. I am excited about visiting as well. I continue to keep postcards of her work (I buy the sets, send out a few and keep a few for myself) because they are so beautiful.

You are certainly a genius, if your handwriting is any gauge! I love deciphering the code. So far I have been able to read them before Stephan, every time! : )

Regina – I love that you keep favorite cards for yourself! We should always take care of ourselves first–what a small and special way to do it 🙂 And love that you and Stephan race to see who can decipher my handwriting!

How ignorant I feel that I knew of Georgia O’Keefe primarily from her flowers. Your blog has opened my eyes and my heart, and I understand how moved you must have been to see these paintings in person with all of their vitality and beauty. Loved what you said about seeing the softness in some of the seemingly hard surfaces. Thank you for sharing this.

Karen – I was ignorant, too, thinking only of flowers. In fact, the museum has very few on display. Intentionally?

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