Grey Hills

Grey Hills

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)

Currently on View in K203
Image Licensing

  • In this painting O’Keeffe magnifies the motif, turning the rolling hills of New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands into powerful mountains.
  • While the title Grey Hills suggests a limited palette, the artist employs a broad range of colors to depict the eroded landscape.
  • O’Keeffe visited this remote region in November 1941. In a letter to her patron, Mrs. Fesler, O’Keeffe wrote: “It is a desolate place—no water—no trees—no grass—only a little sage. Being one of my favorite places I liked spending the last days there before coming East.”
Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico

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. Her first art job was as a commercial artist. 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. In 1916, the New York art dealer, Alfred Stieglitz, first exhibited O’Keeffe’s work in his 291 gallery. The two cultivated a relationship and eventually wed in 1924. O’Keeffe began making compositions of enlarged natural forms, which became her signature style. Between 1929 and 1949, O’Keeffe spent each year working in New Mexico and the region influenced her selection of subject matter. After Stieglitz died, O’Keeffe moved to a home she had purchased in Abiquiu, New Mexico. The Georgia O’Keeffe museum was established in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1997, and her home and studio in Abiquiu became a National Historic landmark in 1998.

Grey Hills was painted during a November trip to a desolate region of New Mexico. The eroded hills and scattered clumps of dry, yellowed sage present a remarkably barren scene, giving the painting a stark, elemental beauty. The softly rounded topography and colored bands of soil form a graceful composition that gradually leads the eye up the massive slope to the top of the canvas. Like the magnified views of O’Keeffe’s flower and bone paintings, the hills of her New Mexico landscapes crowd the frame.

Barbara Buhler Lyons, Leslie Polling-Kempes, Frederick W. Turner. Georgia O’Keeffe and New Mexico: A Sense of Place. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Purchased from the artist by Caroline Fesler

Object Information

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
creation date
oil on canvas
20 x 30 in.
30 x 39 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James W. Fesler
© Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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