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Everybody knows Georgia O'keeffe for paintings of flowers that resemble… “lady parts.”
O’Keeffe is one America’s most famous female artists, and during her career, she was one of the best paid. But she may not have shot to the top as powerfully or quickly without the help of friends in high places--namely, her lover Alfred Stieglitz.
Stieglitz was a (married) hotshot photographer 24 years O’Keeffe’s senior when they met in 1915. A mutual friend showed Stieglitz some of O’Keeffe’s charcoal drawings, and he insisted on showing her work at his notable New York gallery 291, even though she was a 28-year-old schoolteacher living in Texas. A long distance letter correspondence grew into mentorship and then something steamier, until finally O’Keeffe moved to New York, Stieglitz’s wife walked in on him photographing O’Keeffe in the nude, and the two were married not long after.
Life with Stieglitz must have been no cake walk. He was reputed to be a manipulative sonuvabitch, and derived great satisfaction from controlling O’Keeffe’s career and commercial success. They both enjoyed plenty of infidelities--O’Keeffe was particularly keen on the ladies, as you might guess, and is even rumored to have been lovers with artist Agnes Martin.
But O’Keeffe’s greatest lover of all must have been New Mexico. After taking a vacation there without Stieglitz, she became so inspired by the rugged landscape that she decided to stay. There she enjoyed creative solitude while Stieglitz carried on a very public affair with Dorothy Nauman, a 21-year-old married woman in the New York art world. Whether for reasons of love or economy, O’Keeffe and Stieglitz miraculously stayed together until Stieglitz died in 1946.
As her own end drew nigh, O’Keeffe endured what most artists might consider their worst nightmare--loss of sight. Going blind, however, didn’t stop her from rendering the beauty of the weathered New Mexico landscape. A staff of assistants were able to help her create her visions, both remembered and imagined, in her last years.
You can get to know O’Keeffe quite intimately through many, many photographs that Stieglitz took of her (plenty of them nude). O’Keeffe was regarded by many notable photographers to be something of a muse, and artists like Ansel Adams, Arnold Newman,Irving Penn and Andy Warhol have photographed her at various ages and stages of her life.