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Calla Lily (Lily – Yellow, No. 2) by Georgia O’Keeffe

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Arts
Wordcount: 2719 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 Visiting the Oklahoma City Museum of Art gave a grand view of many different art and artists.  The Calla Lily (Lily – Yellow, No. 2), from the year 1927 was an oil painting that was painted by Georgia O’Keeffe.  The country of origin is the United States and the dimensions are approximately 40 inches x 30 inches.  This painting was done in during the Modern Art period.


 The Modern Art period was a time where art and ideas both evolved.  It was a time for painters, sculptures, writers, performers and photographers to change their ideas and to make art their own.  Modernism arrived shortly after Realism (which was the first part of Modernism) and was a movement that brought forth artists that were original and where visual language became something new.  People were looking for new lives and new ideas and they wanted to change the way that society thought and change the way that the past was.

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 Modernism was a time of “newness.”  This was a time where work was new, technology was new, work was new and where things were more innovative.  Modern art is defined as, “intent to portray a subject as it exists in the world, according to his or her unique perspective and is typified by a rejection of accepted or traditional styles and values.” [i]

 Modern Art was an era of art where the subject matter truly came to life.  Artists stopped painting what they saw with their “real” eyes and began to paint with how they envisioned the art to be.  The mid-19th century painters were drawn to new visual landscapes; new fashions and they began to experiment with what they observed.  These painters drew with new vision, visions of imperfections being perfect, and they fell away from the idea of idealized renditions.  They began to draw landscapes, not as they saw them, but how they felt that they should be, and they represented uniqueness, drawing things from different perspectives.  Artists of the Modern Art era began to focus on how an object felt, the sensation of it, and felt that they needed to stray away from natural views.

 Artist began to express views of originality and became independent in their thoughts and their views.  Many artists looked for ways to cause conflict.  They looked for other artists that had the same views that they had, and they drew towards criticism. i 

 Modern Art is nicknamed “avant-garde,” a French term “vanguard,” which means “lead division, going into battle,” and most modern artists are considered to be “avant-garde” because they wanted to advance their practices and ideas of art and they challenged what made art acceptable. i


 Realism is the first modern movement in art that lead to the strong era of Modern Art.  During this time, artists rejected the traditional forms of art, literature and ideas and this all changed during the Enlightenment period.  The Realism era began in France in the 1840’s and it changed the way artists painted, revolutionizing art and changing the idea of what art was supposed to be. 

Realistic painters painted idealistic images and charged the ideas of new truths.  They painted social values and they were considered rebellious because they defiantly exhibited their art work independently and without the help of local artists, teachers or churches.[ii]

Georgia O’Keeffe

 In 1887 in a quaint town of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia O’Keeffe was born to Frank and Ida Toto O’Keeffe.  Her parents were of Irish and Hungarian decent and they lived in a small town on a farm.  Georgia had a brother, Francis Jr. and sisters, Ida Jr., Alexius, Anita, Catherine and Claudia.  Georgia was the oldest girl and she had a room that faced the farm, where there were trees, plants and farm life that she could see from her window.[iii]

 Growing up, Georgia was no stranger to art.  She often went with her mother to local watercolor lessons, taught by Sara Mann.  Then in 1905-1906, she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, studying under, John Vanderpoel.  In 1907, she was lucky enough to move to New York City and attend classes at the Art Student’s League, studying under, William Merritt Chase.  It was at this school that she won an award for a still life painting and could attend the Leagues Sumer School in Lake George, New York.[iv] 

 O’Keeffe visited Gallery 291 often, which was owned by Alfred Stieglitz.  She loved art and in 1908, she took a small break from learning art and became a commercial artist in Chicago.  In 1912, she began attending drawing classes and studying art again at the University of Virginia.  Her teacher, Alon Bement, followed the art style of Arthur Wesley and this interested O’Keeffe.  In 1915, she took a job as teacher at Columbia College in South Carolina where she began to put into practice the theory of Arthur Wesley Dow and his idea of “self-exploration.” i[v]  She drew things such as clouds, ferns and waves using natural forms and did abstract drawings with charcoal using shapes and lines.  She mailed some of her art to a friend and former classmate, who in turn, took the drawing to Alfred Stieglitz. i[vi]

 Alfred Stieglitz began to take photos of O’Keefe’s paintings, so he could show his fellow artists.  He led her to his circle of friends who were called the “championed modernism in the United States,” group. iv  In 1924, O’Keeffe married Alfred Stieglitz and she became known as one of the first females to gain respect in New York.  O’Keeffe began to love painting landscapes in 1929 and went to New Mexico every summer until 1949 to paint the desert, the sky, architecture and bones. iv

 Georgia O’Keeffe loved bones just like she loved landscape.  She said, “To me they are as beautiful as anything I know.  The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the desert, even tho’ it is vast and empty and untouchable.” [vii]

 In 1949, after her husband, Stieglitz died, she moved permanently to New Mexico where she began to draw more architecture.  She based her architecture in the form of her patio wall and door at Abiquiu.  She traveled all over the world to get inspiration.  O’Keeffe’s last paintings were simple, abstract, charcoal drawings.iv

 Georgia O’Keeffe was often called a pioneer because she was noted as being a part of the Feminist Art Era with over 2000 works of art.  She was a strong influence on other artists and she showed artists that she could simplify shapes and forms.  She loved nature, flowers and landscape and was known for her experimentation with abstract art. v

Abstract Art

 Abstract art is art that is considered beautiful, striking, pure and simple art.  Abstract art is derived from artists making something beautiful and creative.  A few famous abstract artists include Kazimir Malevich, Henri Matisse, Marlow Moss, Charles Darwent and Mondrian.  All of these artists are known for their abstract art, art that Georgia O’Keeffe was known for.[viii]

Industrial Revolution

 The popularity of Modern Art came along with the Industrial Revolution.  The Industrial Revolutions began in Rhode Island when Samuel Slater emigrated from Britain to Rhode Island in 1789.  Here, he set up the first textile factory in the United States.

 The Industrial Revolution brought forth new ideas, new lives.  It gave abundant fossil fuels, innovative machines, better energy sources and it helped bring along better transportation, such as the railroad and steam engine.  With the Industrial Revolution came new ideas, better education, easier work, social security, health benefits, wealth and more.  [ix]

 With the idea of the Calla Lily (Lily – Yellow, No. 2), many of O’Keeffe’s works are very similar in style.  Some examples include “Flower of Life ii,” “Jimson Weed,” The Horse’s Skull on Blue,” Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” “Black Iris,” “Two Calla Lilies on Pink,” “Light Iris,” “Poppy,” and more. 

 Another artist that was discovered during research was Margaret Preston.  She completed the work of art called, “The Monstera deliciosa,” in 1934 and it was oil on canvas.  This piece of art was 42 inches by 43 inches and it had the visual color scheme similar to that of O’Keeffe. 

Margaret Preston

 Margaret Preston was an artist during the time when flowers had become an important source of imagery.  Between 1920 and 1940, flowers were considered a pinpoint for Modern Art.  People loved flowers for gardening, interior decorating, design patterns, flower arranging and more.  Tabletop photography was important during this time. [x]

 According to Elias, flowers were important during this time because they were considered a symbol of strength and artists wanted to paint or draw flowers to make them their own.  Flowers became a civilized influence and they were even strong government symbols.  Flowers seemed to symbolize things such as love and death.  Even great names like Immanuel Kant felt that flowers were beautiful because “they exist for themselves and not to fulfil any utilitarian purpose.” [xi]   Artists, like O’Keeffe were taking flowers and making them their own. [xii] 

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 Margaret Preston said, “The ladder of art lies flat not vertical,” [xiii]  and she was known to change the way art was seen, using flowers and her own style of art such as vivid lines, vivid colors and her art was said to be the “kaleidoscope of life.”[xiv]  How similar the art of Preston and O’Keeffe seemed to be.

Visual Analysis

 O’Keeffe seemed to keep her style strong when she drew and painted the piece Calla Lily (Lily – Yellow, No. 2). Her use of dramatic colors and outlines is what makes her artwork so known.  When looking at the piece of art, it is noticeable that she outlines the different parts of the flower, the petals and the leaves.  She uses dynamic color zones of different shades of yellows and greens.  Her flower and the leaves have smooth curves, which is a staple of her work.  There are lines and forms and the flower is magnified and drawn off the canvas.  O’Keeffe used a gray/white background, which gave the flower a feeling of closeness and life.  The “notan,” or “dark, light” that O’Keeffe uses is also seen in this painting, where the shadows of the flower to the left of the painting depict texture and strength to the painting. 

 The flower is abstract, such is important for its time and the picture is a floral composition.  It has sweeping and broad hues, yellow petals, highlighted green leaves and is a large-scale image. 

 This work is like O’Keeffe’s work Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, from the year 1932 which shows a magnified flower with delicate blooms and strong color schemes.  O’Keeffe also has flowers that she has drawn that show vivid color ranges and vibrant strokes such as in “Poppy,” “Petunias,” and “Oriental Poppies.” 


 Georgia O’Keeffe was an artist known for her dynamic painting and her strength of value and her strength as a woman.  Even before she became famous, O’Keeffe worked hard to show her ideas the way that she believed in them.  The way she dressed, making her own clothing, painting her own subjects and even taking a masculine spin on her subject matters all showed the world that she was a woman of renowned thoughts and ideas.[xv] 

 Georgia O’Keefe was quoted as saying, “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.  I want to give that world to someone else.  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.” [xvi]  And that is exactly what Georgia O’Keeffe did, over and over, with over 2000 pieces of art, many of them depicting flowers from her own point of view.[xvii]

[i] Art Story.  Modern Art.  Retrieved on November 15, 2018 from www.theartstory.org.

[ii] Art Story.  Realism.  Retrieved on November 15, 2018 from www.theartstory.org.

[iii] Karbo, K.  2012.  How Georgia become O’Keeffe:  Lessons on the art of living.  Morris Publishing Group.

[iv] Art Story.  Georgia O’Keeffe, American painter.  Retrieved on November 15, 2018 from www.theartstory.org.

[v] Who is Georgia O’Keeffe?  Retrieved on November 15, 2015 from www.tate.org.uk.

[vi] Who is Georgia O’Keeffe?  Retrieved on November 15, 2015 from www.tate.org.uk.

[viii] A brief history of abstract art with Turner, Mondrian and more.  Retrieved on November 15, 2018 from www.tate.org.uk.

[ix] Industrial Revolution.  Retrieved on November 15, 2018 from www.khanacademy.org.

[x] Elias, A.  2015.  Useless beauty flowers and Australian art.  Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

[xi] Elias, A.  2015.  Useless beauty flowers and Australian art.  Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

[xii] Elias, A.  2015.  Useless beauty flowers and Australian art.  Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

[xiii] Elias, A.  2015.  Useless beauty flowers and Australian art.  Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

[xiv] Elias, A.  2015.  Useless beauty flowers and Australian art.  Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

[xv] Keats, J.  2017.  More than just a painter, Georgia O’Keeffe was also the first art world fashionista.  Retrieved on November 15, 2018 from www.forbes.com.

[xvi] Art Story.  Jimson Weed White Flower No. 1.  Retrieved on November 15, 2018 from www.theartstory.org.

[xvii] Art Story.  Jimson Weed White Flower No. 1.  Retrieved on November 15, 2018 from www.theartstory.org.


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