Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction

The steamy correspondence between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz has been kept under seal for 20 years. Judith H. Dobrzynski reveals their epistolary romance. VIEW OUR GALLERY.

© Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

© Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Series I, No. 8, 1919

From New York
13 June 1918
You will be here in a few minutes I guess but I have to get up and write you – its necessary – I must – I’ve been lying here listening for you in the dark – my face feels so hot Aching for you way down to my finger ends – an actual physical ache –
As I came up the street into the sunset after supper – I wondered – can I stand it – the terrible fineness and beauty of the intensity of you – I do not know – may yet have to run away – it seems almost too much –

And lying here – wanting you with such an all ache – not just wanting – loving – feeling – all the parts of my body touched and kissed – conscious of you
A volcano is nothing to it
No words I know say the hotness – consumingness of it
Still I some way feel I can be quiet when you come can control myself
Feeling it grow though—I seem to feel that the moment will come when I cant control myself when I’ll be blind and mad

The woman you are making seems to have gone far beyond me – Almost out of sight

Oil on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm) Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich
Gift of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation

Board of Trustees

Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, 1930

From York Beach, Maine
May 1922
…Dearest I love you.
I am on my back – waiting to be spread wide apart – waiting for you
to die with the sense of you – the pleasure of you – the sensuousness of you touching the sensuousness of me – all my body – all of me is waiting for you to touch the center of me with the center of you –
…When I feel how your touching my body –getting into my body – has given all of me to you – all of you to me as much as one human being can get into and feel another of another – I wonder if there is any difference in body – and spirit – and soul and mind – aren’t they all one and the same thing --
…Its my body that wants you and it seems to be the only thought or desire that I have – it even seems to be my only memory of you – two bodies that have fused – have touched with completeness at both ends making a complete circuit – making them one – a circle that nothing can break – you have given me – the circle of the most painfully intense pleasure –
…Im in such a state that I could write about this all day –

Oil on canvas
40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe

© Private collection

Blue Flower, 1918

On Train from New York to Chicago
12 July 1928
Dearest –
…You see – as I realize you are getting older – I want to take you in my arms like a baby and make it easy for you – take care of you – but I feel you want to stand alone in the wind – the wind blowing your cape and your hair and your little body and I feel too that it is best that way – but I at least want to stand beside you near enough so that you can put out your hand to me if you want to and when you want to – and I want you to feel me there no matter how far away I am in miles –
…-- I kiss you and wish you quiet –
As I go toward this place that was my beginning – I know more and more how much deeper you have gone into me even than my beginning It is as tho I have had nothing else but the feeling of big open spaces –
-- My love to you dearest – I think we both understand – even tho we are both very difficult at times – I have wept a handkerchief wet over this –

Pastel on paper mounted on cardboard
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gift, The Burnett Foundation

© 1987, Private Collection

Black Place III, 1944

From Taos, N.M.
10 July 1929
My dear Aflred –
I really see nothing for me to do but return to you if you are going to worry this way.

As for other things you write of the past – things that have hurt me – and things that have hurt you – I have purposefully not written of it or remarked on it because of the distance between us – the long times between letters – and possibly – I do not want to hurt you – I have put out my hand to you so many times of late and more often than not felt you turn away from me …

You really need have no regrets about me – You see – I have not really had my way of life for many years – When I felt very close to you – that there was a home for me really within you – I could live – I will say – your way as much as it was possible for me to live anothers way – but when that seemed gone – there is much life in me – when it was always checked in moving toward you – I realized it would die if it could not move toward some thing – here it seems to move in every direction – there it didn’t seem to move at all – it seemed only to meet cold – cold –

… Now listen Boy – I am alright. And what is between us is alright – and I don’t want you to worry a bit about me – There was much more cause to worry about things when I was right beside you – If you just quiet down and be normal I will stay – if you cant – I want you to tell me – but if you can – I want to stay here longer – But not at too great a price from you – So you must tell me –

…A kiss Little Boy – I have not wanted to be anything but kind to you – but there is nothing to be kind to you if I can not be Me – And Me is something that reaches very far out into the world and all around – and kisses you – a very warm – cool – loving – kiss – Nobody ever belonged to anyone more than I have belonged to you – and no one ever wanted less to hurt any one than I have wanted to hurt you – -- So now sleep quietly – as tho I am by you and kiss you goodnight –

Oil on canvas
36 x 40 in. (91.4 x 101.6 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico Gift, The Burnett Foundation

© Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Abstraction White Rose, 1927

From New York, II
13 July 1929
I know that many things that seem very precious – very holy – are gone for me – but I feel too – that way down beyond that – where you can not touch it – where no one can touch it – there is a bond – that is my feeling for you – it is deeper than anything you can do to me – that is why I know I will be with you to the end – whether you wish it or not – whether I choose it or not – whether I am close to you or not

You have always told me that the work came first –
that has often been very difficult for the woman in me –

Oil on canvas
36 x 30 in. (91.4 x 76.2 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gift, The Burnett Foundation and The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation

© Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Abstraction, 1926

From H&M Ranch, Alcade, N.M
26 July 1934
…You will say you didn’t want me there because I didn’t want some one else [Dorothy Norman] there – and all I have to say about that is that I do not for one moment accept the idea of your going about publicly making love to someone else – the place was not intended for that – I know that one can not control what one feels but one can control the public exhibition of it It was you who wanted me and insisted on marriage and I am inclined to feel that I had a right to expect you to respect that relation –

And always my feeling for you – the thing you are – the thing you have been to me in every way simply tears me to bits because I feel you have chosen a road without me – there is no way for us to meet on that road unless I can take a road of my own and work – and that is very difficult – I am always thinking I am on it and then I find I am not –
…I know what I am to you – as you put it – a deep central part of your life – and you must know you are – I will say the deep central part of my life –

Oil on canvas
30 1/4 x 18 1/16 in. (76.8 x 45.9 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

© J. Paul Getty Trust

Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait, 1918

From Canyon, Texas
18 December 1916
Stieglitz –
I’ve been out watching the sunset again…

There isn’t anyone in Texas to talk to tonight – My head would just about come to your knee if I were standing in front of you – and its great to be little – I like it.

I wonder if you will read this in the morning. Id like it to be a great day.

12 March 1917
…You know – Im just living – I just sort of plunge from one thing to another – so often – so very much afraid – And you feel like some thing that protects me – some thing I want to be very close to….

30 June 1917
…291 – You – believing in me – that making me believe in myself – has made it possible to be myself…
So again tonight – I don’t know if its woman or little girl – I am mostly both – I want to put my arms round you – kiss you – let you kiss me – Its all very quiet – what I want is very quiet – it’s great to trust anyone enough to let them kiss you…

Alfred Stieglitz
Gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 x 7 3/4 in. (24.2 x 19.7 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Getty Images

From Ghost Ranch, N.M.

18 August 1943
Good afternoon – five letters from you when Maria [Chabot] returned from Abiquiu – Very good to have but they make me sad – You sound lonely – and I believe you would feel lonely even if I were there – And if I were there I would not be what you remember – It makes me very sad – the child in you that I have always wanted to take care of –
…I wish you were here –
A kiss to you –

Getty Images

New York (left for him, as she departed for New Mexico)

5 June 1946
My friend I have not written letters – I seem to have been so busy – I will be thinking of you all through the night and all through the days
You will be with me in my country
I will be with you here
Be good to yourself for me –
It means so much for me –
But I need not say –
You know without my saying –

© The Art Institute of Chicago

Georgia O’Keeffe, 1918

From Columbia, S.C.
January 1916
Mr. Stieglitz:
If you remember for a week – why you liked my charcoals that Anita Pollitzer showed you – and what they said to you – I would like to know if you want to tell me.
…I make them just to express myself – things I feel and want to say – havent words for – Georgia O’Keeffe

1 February 1916
Mr. Stieglitz – I like what you write me – Maybe I don’t get exactly your meaning – but I like mine – like you liked your interpretation of my drawings….I am so glad they surprised you – that they gave you joy. I am glad I could give you once what 291 has given me many times.

Words and I are not good friends at all except with some people – when I am close to them and can feel as well as hear their response – …I wish I could tell you some of the things I’ve wanted to say as I felt them.

Sincerely, Georgia O’Keeffe

Alfred Stieglitz
Gelatin silver print, 4 7/16 x 3 1/2 in. (11.3 x 8.9 cm)
The Art Institute of Chicago
Alfred Stieglitz Collection