Unless our sudden heatwave has forced you into a closed-curtain-bedroom retreat, if you live in London you’re probably aware that there’s a major new retrospective of Georgia O’Keefe’s work currently exhibiting at the Tate Modern. The posters are all over the tube, complete with a quote from O’Keeffe that echoes Serena William’s own recent comments on the reductive way successful women are often framed: ‘Men put me down as the best woman painter… I think I’m one of the best painters.’
Those posters also feature a blown up image of one of her paintings featuring perhaps her most famous motif: flowers. Along with animal skulls and desert landscapes, her work featured magnified compositions of blooming plant life. Unlike many of her contemporaries, O’Keeffe was immediately acclaimed as a pioneering artist upon the debut of her show in 1916. Exactly 100 years later, her reputation in the art world, and her painting Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 (1932) remains the most expensive painting by a female artist ever to be sold at auction.
O’Keeffe’s iconic status is often as magnified as the petals on her canvas, something which some argue detracts from the work itself - art historian Griselda Pollock called this a “destructive hyper-visibility.” However, there is little doubt that O’Keeffe’s life - beginning on a Wisconsin dairy farm in 1887 and ending 99 years later in the relative luxury of her Santa Fe home - offer a particularly visible narrative of an independent, twentieth century woman.
What’s also of little doubt is the way in which her magnificent paintings for the most part retain their glory no matter how they are reproduced. Below, we reproduce some of our own personal favourites to wake you from any sunny slumber you might be experiencing right now…
“Most people in the city rush around so they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”