Jimson Weed

Jimson Weed

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)

Currently on View in K203
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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)
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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
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Curatorial Summary

Georgia O’Keeffe was born on a farm in Wisconsin, the second of seven children. Her mother sent the girls to art classes and encouraged O’Keeffe to continue her training. She attended Town Hall School in Wisconsin and studied with a watercolorist. O’Keeffe then enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and attended the Art Students League in New York, where she studied under William Merritt Chase. Her first art job was as a commercial artist, and she also taught art in an elementary school in Texas. O’Keeffe attended a class at the University of Virginia Summer School where she was introduced to the work of Arthur Wesley Dow. His free-thinking opinions on creating art were a major influence on her. Without O’Keeffe’s permission, a friend took her drawings to the New York art dealer, Alfred Stieglitz, whose 291 gallery showed the work of the most advanced abstract artists. Stieglitz exhibited her drawings. When O’Keeffe learned of this display, she confronted Stieglitz but let the drawings hang. Although Stieglitz was much older than O’Keeffe, he divorced his wife and the two were married.

O’Keeffe began making large-scale compositions containing highly magnified natural forms, which became her signature style. As a young girl she was fascinated by the minute details of flowers and started painting flowers in 1918. She produced her first magnified flowers in 1924. In 1939 O’Keeffe said this of her enlarged flowers, “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.” In 1946 she added, “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.”

References

Braggiotti, Mary. “Her Worlds Are Many.” New York Post, May 16, 1946. Quoted in Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. New York: Seaview Books, 1980. O’Keeffe’s quote is on page 136.

Lisle, Laurie. Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. New York: Seaview Books, 1980.

O'Keeffe, Georgia. “About Myself.” In Exhibition of Oils and Pastels. Exhibition brochure. New York: An American Place, 1939.

O'Keeffe, Georgia. Georgia O’Keeffe: Exhibition of Oils And Pastels . New York: An American Place, 1939. Exhibition catalog. Quoted in Lloyd Goodrich and Doris Bry, Georgia O'Keeffe. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1970. O’Keeffe’s quote is on pages 17-18.

Schaire, Jeffrey. “Georgia O'Keeffe in Love.” Art & Antiques. September 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

artist
Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
creation date
1936
materials
oil on linen
dimensions
70 x 83-1/2 in.
73-1/16 x 85-1/8 x 1-5/8 in. (framed)
accession number
1997.131
credit line
Gift of Eli Lilly and Company
copyright
© Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
collection
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945
colors

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