Georgia O’Keeffe

1956, Printed later
Silver Gelatin Photograph

Signed in ink on the mount; titled in an unknown hand in pencil and credit stamp on the mount verso.

In 1956, Yousuf Karsh traveled to Abiquiu in New Mexico to photograph renowned visual artist, Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe, who created iconic and original contributions to the American Modernist movement, would sit for the photographer and present in the following picture, her highly effective self-crafted public persona.

“To photograph this remarkable artist I went to Abiquiu, New Mexico, where O’Keeffe had settled ten years earlier. Her sparse adobe home with wide windows overlooking the mountain was almost completely devoid of ornaments. I expected to find in her personality some of the poetic intensity of her paintings. I found intensity, but the austere intensity of dedication to her work. Her friend and fellow artist Anita Pollitzer says that she is so in love with the things she does that she subordinates all else to win time and freedom to paint. I decided to photograph her as another friend had described her: “Georgia, her pure profile calm, clear; her sleek black hair drawn swiftly back into a tight knot at the nape of her neck; the strong white hands, touching and lifting everything, even the boiled eggs, as if they were living things – sensitive, slow-moving hands, coming out of the black and white, always this black and white.”

In this remarkable photograph, Karsh captures the intensity and stoic character of O’Keeffe. His work was often stark and sparse. His pursuit was neither to glamorize or adorn but instead to probe and reveal the essence of his sitter as honestly as possible. Few photographers have so successfully memorialized their subjects. In his picture of O’Keeffe, Karsh shows the iconic quality of this progressive, trailblazing woman. Her “less is more” aesthetic, initially recognized by Karsh after entering the artist’s home, epitomized her minimalist taste and is reflected in her portrait; her pose heightening her enigmatic persona. It was in her home in New Mexico where, captured by a cadre of then promising photographers, she cemented her reputation as a legendary modernist artist. Through the impression of Karsh’s image and other photographs, O’Keeffe became a symbol of independence and of the American West, of rugged self-determination and unwavering devotion to an art practice she embraced so thoroughly.

So significant was Karsh’s impact on the world of photography that upon his demise, The Metropolitan Museum of Art described him as one of the greatest portrait photographers of the twentieth century.