At the Gallery : The Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition at The AGO

georgia okeeffe at the ago toronto

When a child decides she will be an artist at the age of ten, and then goes on to create consistently for the next eight decades, there undoubtedly would be a huge number of pieces to choose from, when putting together a retrospective exhibition of her work. Having seen The Georgia O'Keeffe Exhibition currently on at The AGO, I'd say those who selected the 80 pieces on display, did a great job -- every piece draws you in, encouraging you to take a good look.

American artist Georgia O'Keeffe was the second of seven children born on a Wisconsin farm in 1887, living to the age of 98. While she was recognized as the "Mother of American modernism", the illusion to being female implicit in that title would have annoyed her -- she wished to be known as a great and dedicated artist, period, regardless of gender.

It is estimated that she created 2,000 works. Her painting Jimson Weed sold for $44.4 US in 2014, making it the highest valued piece of art ever created by a female, by a multiple of more than three times. The seller was The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe New Mexico. A fun fact about that painting -- it was commissioned by Elizabeth Arden in 1936, to be hung in gym of her Fifth Avenue Salon in New York City, where the unfurling blossoms would encourage her clients in their stretches. Arden paid the exorbitant sum of $10,000 for the largest floral composition O'Keeffe would ever create. While that specific painting is not in the AGO show, as you'll see below, there is a breathtaking Jimson Weed painting included -- she grew them around her porch so they were a ready subject.

Toronto is the only Canadian stop for this show, which was organized by The Tate Gallery in London, in collaboration with The AGO. It runs until July 30th so there's plenty of time to see it, if you're in the city.

Normally photography is not permitted, however, in order to give you a little peek at what awaits, a group of bloggers were invited for a tour and allowed to take pictures to share on our sites. And they generously offered room for one guest each, so Nick came along too.


The tour was expertly led by Interpretive Planner Gillian McIntrye, who played a significant role in organizing the show. In fact, she was present when the paintings arrived at the gallery and watched as each was removed from its packing crate, which must have been a really neat experience.

Although the show begins with early works, the art is organized more by subject matter/style than it is by strict chronological order. That said, since she added subjects, moved locations and modified her style as life progressed, there is an inevitable movement through the decades built in.

We begin with some early abstracts, most of which were created while she was in her mid to late 20s ....

georgia okeeffe at ago exhibition spring twenty seventeen toronto red and orange streak

↑ Red and Orange Streak - 1919 ↑

georgia okeeffe abstraction white rose at ago exhibition toronto

↑ Abstraction White Rose - 1927 ↑

black white and blue painting by georgia okeeffe on display at ago toronto exhibition spring twenty seventeen

↑ Black, White an Blue - 1930 ↑

In 1918, at the age of 30, she moved to New York, after having met photographer, modern art promoter and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, who offered her financial support and a place to live and paint. Stieglitz was married and nearly twice her age, but he moved in with Georgia one month after her arrival in the city. He was well established in the art scene, and introduced her to his circle of friends and showed her art in his highly regarded gallery.

Six years later, Stieglitz divorced his wife and he and Georgia were married.

The next couple of sections of the show include her paintings of New York scenes ...

georgia okeeffe at ago toronto art exhibition new york night and ritz tower night

↑ New York, Night AND Ritz Tower, Night - 1928 ↑

east river from shelton hotel georgia okeeffe painting at ago exhibition

↑ East River From the 30th Story of the Shelton Hotel - 1928 ↑

... and inspired by what she saw where they spent their summers, Lake George in upstate New York ...

at the georgia okeeffe exhibition ago toronto from the lake

↑ From the Lake No.1 - 1924 ↑

lake george barns painting by georgia okeeffe at ago toronto art exhibition

↑ Lake George Barns - 1926 ↑

apple family painting by georgia okeeffe at ago

↑ Apple Family 2 - 1920 ↑

autumn trees the maple AND grey tree lake george by georgia okeeffe at ago toronto

↑ Autumn Leaves, The Maple - 1924 AND Grey Tree, Lake George - 1925 ↑

georgia okeeffe paintings of trees at ago toronto

at the georgia okeeffe exhibition ago toronto

Then visitors come upon a section dedicated to photography, including some portraits of Georgia and Stieglitz taken by Arnold Newman in 1944, and a number of portraits Steiglitz took of her. There are examples chosen from the 350 he produced during their first few years together, marking the most prolific period of his life as an artist.

alfred stieglitz photographs of georgia okeeffe at ago toronto

portraits of georgia okeeffe and alfred stieglitz by arnold newman

the georgia okeeffe exhibition at the ago toronto

Following that, we enter a room displaying a selection of her famous paintings of flowers. In all, Georgia made about 200 flower paintings, even though she is known to have stated that she wasn’t really interested in flowers, and that, actually, she hated them but painted them because they were cheaper than models and they didn’t move.

me with oriental poppies painting

↑ Oriental Poppies - 1927 ↑

paintings of calla lilies by georgia okeeffe at ago exhibition

at georgia okeeffe exhibition ago flower section

↑ Jimson Weed / White Flower No. 1 - 1932 ↑

the eggplant by georgia okeeffe at ago toronto art gallery of ontario

↑ Here you'll find the 1924 painting, The Eggplant, which finds its full-time home at The AGO. It was bought by Toronto artist and art patron Dorothy Huestis Mills in 1926, after she saw it in a New York exhibition, making it the first Georgia O'Keeffe work to be collected outside the United States. In 1990 it was donated to the gallery by Dorothy's husband, in her memory. ↑

Unfortunately, in 1928 when she was 40, Stieglitz cheated on Georgia with a much younger woman a mere four years after their marriage, causing her much distress and resulting in a nervous breakdown. She was briefly hospitalized for depression and put down her paint brush for a year or so. (Interestingly, she remained married to him until his death at 82 in 1946.)

While this must have been very difficult time for her, hindsight tells us that some good came from it, in that, while she was recuperating she spent time in New Mexico and ultimately decided to live there. It was in New Mexico that her iconic paintings of the desert and animal sculls began.

georgia okeeffe quote about new mexico

horses skull and pink rose by georgia okeeffe seen at ago exhibition toronto

↑ Horse's Skull and Pink Rose - 1931 ↑

in the new mexico section ago georgia okeeffe exhibition toronto

georgia okeeffe exhibit at ago toronto animal skulls desert section

tour of georgia okeeffe exhibition ago

In an area adjacent to that are a number of stunning desert landscapes and some photographs of her taken by Ansel Adams and Arnold Newman.

gerogia okeeffe portrait by arnold newman

↑ by Arnold Newman - 1968 ↑

georgia okeeffe new mexico landscapes and structures at ago

in the new mexico landscape section georgia okeeffe show at ago toronto

Since it was so sunny and hot out in the desert, she used to drive a car out to where she wanted to be and then paint from within that, therefore creating a portable studio that kept her protected from direct sun.

my front yard summer painting by georgia okeeffe

↑ Not all the desert paintings were taken away from home though, as this one is called "My Front Yard, Summer" (1941) and depicts her everyday view. ↑

georgia okeeffe retrospective exhibition at ago toronto spring twenty seventeen

Following that, you enter the final section of the show, one that contains abstracts and "skyscapes" -- she'd taken to travelling far and wide by airplane, gleaning inspiration for paintings by looking down and around from the plane. These include paintings that look like abstracts but represent roads and landscape as seen from way up in the sky.

georgia okeeffe late abstractions and skyscapes final section of ago show

I'm assuming the following quote pertains to the 1962 painting below, called "Sky With Flat White Cloud" ...

georgia okeeffe quote about the sky as seen when in an airplane

nick with painting

↑ Nick was in the room when I loaded this shot up on my computer at home. I laughed at his stiff position, commenting that he could have tried to look a little more comfortable. His response : "I did that on purpose ... I was being still and flat like the painting." ↑

it was blue and green painting by georgia okeeffe

↑ It Was Blue and Green - 1960 ↑

ago Interpretive Planner Gillian McIntrye georgia okeeffe exhibition toronto art gallery of ontario

↑ Dynamic tour guide and AGO Interpretive Planner, Gillian McIntrye. ↑

pelvis abstract painting by georgia okeeffe

↑ Pelvis 1 - 1944 ↑

black door with red by georgia okeeffe

↑ Black Door With Red - 1954 ↑

me and portrait

↑ The show ends with a dramatically large reproduction of a portrait of Georgia, taken by Yousuf Karsh at her New Mexico home in 1956. ↑

The Georgia O'Keeffe Exhibition at The AGO is a rich and wonderful show and I hope you get the chance to see it yourself. It is a ticketed exhibit, that will hang at the gallery between April 22nd and July 30, 2017.

Thank you for reading. Also, thanks to the organizers of this tour for inviting us.
xo loulou

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One Response to At the Gallery : The Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition at The AGO

  1. Julie says:

    I loved this exhibit as well, and was so happy to relive it through your photos- lucky you to be able to take photos! I remember trying to snag a photo of the oriental poppies, which I had on my wall throughout my twenties, but the guard chastised me about that. ;)

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