Jimson Weed

Jimson Weed

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)

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  • In her most ambitious floral still life, O’Keeffe magnified the white trumpet blossoms of the jimson weed, arranging them in an exuberant composition charged with energy and movement. The radical manipulation of scale was one of the innovations of the modernist movement.
  • Jimson weed, a desert plant that bloomed in the cool evening hours, thrived in the territory near O’Keeffe’s house in Abiquiu, New Mexico.
  • Cosmetic entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden commissioned O’Keeffe to paint Jimson Weed for the exercise room of her Fifth Avenue Salon in New York. Imitating O’Keeffe’s four monumental blossoms, the fitness routine of the gym’s patrons included stretching and unfurling.
Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Cosmetics entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden commissioned Georgia O'Keeffe to paint Jimson Weed, originally titled Miracle Flower, to hang in the exercise room of the new Gymnasium Moderne at Arden's Fifth Avenue Salon in New York City. During stretching exercises, clients of the salon "unfurled" like the flowers in O'Keeffe's painting on the wall behind them. Arden paid O'Keeffe $10,000, considered an astonishing amount at the time, for the largest floral composition the artist would ever create.

The four blossoms are placed in an energetic design that repeats the tight rhythm of the jimson weed's pinwheel-shaped flower. About this plant, which grew near the artist's home in New Mexico, O'Keeffe said, "When I think of the delicate fragrance of the flowers, I almost feel the coolness and sweetness of the evening." She emphasized her subject's fresh beauty with a bright, simplified palette and rhythmic treatment of light and shadow.

O'Keeffe, one of the first American modernists, was at the heart of the group of artists who gathered around Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer and art dealer who became her husband. The sheer size of her flowers-an arresting manipulation of scale-represented a radical modernist innovation.

I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.
-Georgia O'Keeffe, 1939

Magnified Natural Forms

Georgia O’Keeffe, the second of seven children, was born on a farm in Wisconsin. O’Keeffe’s mother encouraged her to pursue art. In 1905, she enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and, beginning in 1907, she attended the Art Students League in New York, studying there under William Merritt Chase. A drawing class taught by Alon Bement at the University of Virginia Summer School introduced O’Keeffe to the work of Arthur Wesley Dow, whose progressive ideas influenced her art. O’Keeffe began making compositions of highly magnified natural forms, which became her signature style. As a young girl, she was fascinated by the minute details of flowers, which she first painted in 1918. She produced her first ‘close-up’ flower paintings in 1924. O’Keeffe said of these paintings, “A flower is relatively small…If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small. So I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it.” “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.”

In 1936, cosmetics executive Elizabeth Arden commissioned O’Keeffe to paint Jimson Weed to hang in the exercise room of the new Arden Sport Salon in New York. The result was the largest of O’Keeffe’s flower paintings. The artist placed the four blossoms in an exuberant design that repeats the tight rhythm of the pinwheel-shaped plant. She emphasized her subject’s fresh beauty with a light, restricted palette. When Eli Lilly and Company purchased the Arden firm in the 1970s, it also acquired the painting. Lilly sold the Arden subsidiary in 1987 and they lent the painting to the Indianapolis Museum of Art at that time. The company ultimately donated it to the museum in 1997.

O’Keefe, Georgia and Nicholas Callaway. One Hundred Flowers by Georgia O’Keeffe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.

Elizabeth Arden commissioned the piece from the artist; Elizabeth Arden salon was purchased by Eli Lilly and Co, Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1971; Eli Lilly donated the painting to the museum in 1997.

Object Information

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
creation date
oil on linen
70 x 83-1/2 in.
73-1/16 x 85-1/8 x 1-5/8 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of Eli Lilly and Company
© Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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