Sky Above Clouds IV

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Georgia O'Keeffe
American, 1887-1986

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

© The Art Institute of Chicago

Painted in the summer of 1965, when Georgia O'Keeffe was 77 years old, this monumental work culminates a series based on the artist's experiences as an airplane passenger during the 1950s. Working in Abiquiu, New Mexico, O'Keeffe began around 1963 to capture the endless expanses of clouds she had observed from airplane windows during trips all over the world. Beginning with a relatively realistic depiction of small white clouds on a three-by-four-foot canvas, she progressed to more stylized images of the motif on larger surfaces, ultimately extending her idea across a canvas that spanned the entire 24-foot width of her garage. Given its scale and the predominance of rounded shapes in the composition, Sky Above Clouds IV has often been compared to Claude Monet's famous water-lily murals. O'Keeffe wrote:

I painted a painting eight feet high and twenty-four feet wide—it kept me working every minute from six a.m. till eight or nine at night as I had to be finished before it was cold—I worked in the garage and it had no heat—Such a size is of course ridiculous but I had it in my head as something I wanted to do for a couple of years so I finally got at it and had a fine time—and there it is—Not my best and not my worst.

In 1970 a retrospective of O'Keeffe's work was scheduled for installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the San Francisco Museum of Art; Sky Above Clouds IV was never shown in San Francisco, however, because it would not pass through any door of the museum. The painting thus remained on loan to the Art Institute for more than a decade, while the artist and public-minded collectors of her art arranged for it to become one of the highlights of the museum's permanent collection.

The special relationship between O'Keeffe and the Art Institute began in 1905, when she enrolled briefly as a student at the School of the Art Institute. Her first museum retrospective was organized here in 1943. Later, as the executor for the estate of her husband, the pioneering American photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, O'Keeffe presented the Art Institute with an important group of Modernist works, including a number of her own. She continued to make significant additions to this bequest until her death, at age 98, in 1986.

permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Fort Worth, Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, "Georgia O'Keeffe," March 17-May 8, 1966, as "Above the Clouds IV" no cat. no.

Whitney Museum of American Art, "Georgia O'Keeffe Retrospective Exhibition," October 8-November 29, 1970; traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago, January 6-February 7, 1971; San Francisco Museum of Art, March 15-April 30, 1971, cat. 120, illus, cover (New York and Chicago only).

Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, "Georgia O'Keeffe, Art and Letters," November 1, 1987-February 21, 1988; traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago, March 5-June 19, 1988; Dallas Museum of Art, July 31-October 16, 1988; Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1988-February 5, 1989, cat. 120 (Washington D.C. and Chicago only).