Georgia O'Keeffe
American, 1887–1986
Black Cross, New Mexico
1929

Oil on canvas
99.1 x 76.2 cm (39 x 30 in.)
Art Institute Purchase Fund, 1943.95

"I saw the crosses so often—and often in unexpected places— like a thin dark veil of the Catholic church spread over the New Mexico landscape," said Georgia O’Keeffe of the Southwestern territory near Taos, where she would eventually settle. A member of the circle of avant-garde artists who exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz’s New York gallery, 291, O’Keeffe married Stieglitz in 1924. She made her first visit to New Mexico in 1929. During late-night walks in the desert, she encountered mysterious crosses, one of which she transformed in Black Cross, New Mexico. These sacred monuments were probably erected near remote chapels (moradas) by secret Catholic lay brotherhoods called Penitentes.

O’Keeffe, a pioneer of American Modernism, emphasized the essential beauty of all of her subjects by magnifying shapes and simplifying details. She painted the cross just as she saw it: "big and strong, put together with wooden pegs." Behind it, she depicted "those hills . . . [that] go on and on—it was like looking at two miles of gray elephants." For O’Keeffe, "painting the crosses was a way of painting the country," a beloved region where she settled in 1949 and lived until her death at age 98.

Georgia O'Keeffe
Sky above Clouds IV
1965

Oil on canvas
243.8 x 731.5 cm (96 x 288 in.)
Restricted gift of the Paul and Gabriella Rosenbaum Foundation; gift of Georgia O'Keeffe, 1983.821

O’Keeffe worked almost until the very end of her long life. In her 70s, she took her first trip by airplane. From 30,000 feet, she was inspired by the extraordinary view of the clouds below her and later produced Sky above Clouds IV, the largest painting of her career. To make the work, she stretched a huge canvas across the outside of her garage, painting from dawn until the last light of the sun dimmed at night. To reach the top of the canvas, she climbed a ladder and, for each of the lower levels, she stood or sat on a special platform: a table, a box, a small Mexican chair, and finally, the floor.

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