Georgia O'Keeffe: Hawaii and Beyond

Georgia O'Keeffe: Hawaii and Beyond

A look at the artist's life and works through travel and place.

A look at the artist's life and works through travel and place.


Georgia O'Keeffe, Crab's Claw Ginger Hawaii, 1939. 20th Century & Contemporary Art. 





On January 30, 1939, Georgia O’Keeffe embarked on a nine-week sojourn to Hawaii, a transformative experience that inspired some of the most visually alluring paintings of her career. Marking a pivotal moment in the legendary artist’s pioneering practice, Crab’s Claw Ginger Hawaii is one the most iconic works among the 22 paintings she created based on her time in the Aloha State. Of these, 14 reside in museum collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe; the Brooklyn Museum of Art; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., among others.

Georgia O'KeeffeWaterfall—End of Road—'Iao Valley, 1939. Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Many things are so beautiful that they don’t seem real. My idea of the world — nature — things that grow... has not been beautiful enough.

– Georgia O’Keeffe to Alfred Stieglitz, February-March 1939

Georgia O'Keeffe, Lake George Autumn, 1927. Collection of Milwaukee Art Museum. 

O’Keeffe strove to capture “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it,” as evidenced by her continuous delight in the diverse environments she encountered. In her early career, she traveled from New York City to Lake George before permanently settling in New Mexico in 1949. O’Keeffe distilled each landscape to its most essential elements — this can be seen in the calm of Lake George, the sharp edge of a skyscraper, or the hollow of a bone.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Pelvis with Distance, 1943. Indianapolis Museum of Art. 


O’Keeffe’s relentless thirst for exploration and beauty only heightened with age, as she travelled to Mexico, Peru, India and Japan whereafter she produced some of the purest abstractions of her career. She absorbed her surroundings with great ardor, continuing to challenge her own visual vocabulary with which she worked.


Georgia O'Keeffe, Untitled (Mt. Fuji), 1960. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe.

Despite the brevity of her stay in Hawaii, vestiges of O’Keeffe’s experience can be traced through her mature work. On February 26, 1939, she recounts, “I flew — and I was afraid but I did it anyway—We could see it all marked out like a map—these great clouds—great big white ones — dark blue water below — blue sky above — it was particularly good coming back —" (p. 99). The same vitality and awe with which she describes flying over the clouds of Hawaii are echoed in later paintings like Sky Above Clouds IV.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Sky Above Clouds IV, 1965. The Art Institute of Chicago

Such things I have seen out the window I have never dreamed — this is more like my dreams than anything I have ever seen. I really can’t tell of it but it makes me believe in my dreams more than I ever have.

– Georgia O’Keeffe in a letter to Anita Young, 1959


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