The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Book Revzews

artists. They were not working in isolation, remote from any knowledge of the
works by artists of other cultures.
Smithsonzan Institution JOHN C. EWERS
Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life. By Roxana Robinson. (New York: Harper and Row,
1989. Pp. x+639. Acknowledgments, photographs, illustrations, notes, se-
lected bibliography, index. $25.00.)
Georgia O'Keeffe seems always to have been the focus of public scrutiny.
From her first exhibitions at Alfred Stieglitz's 291 Gallery in New York City to
her life and death in New Mexico, she has always fascinated.
Independent, strong-willed, poetic, and dedicated to making visual re-
cordings of her responses to nature, the mystique of Georgia O'Keeffe flour-
ished over the nine decades of her life. The myth of O'Keeffe was based in part
on her photographs-either those made by Alfred Stieglitz, her mentor cum
husband, or by other master photographers of the day. Typically she is pic-
tured dressed in black, her remarkably handsome, angular features as striking
and unique as her paintings. Or she is shown walking alone in the New Mexi-
can desert. These potent images brought before the public the romantic image
of the artist as solitary figure-a figure who lived and created outside the nor-
mal world, and who could survive, even thrive, on isolation.
Roxana Robinson goes beyond the myth of O'Keeffe to show us the human
O'Keeffe. Often frightened, O'Keeffe used her fear as a motivator for her
work. The reader learns of O'Keeffe's indebtedness to Stieglitz, for without his
exhibitions of her work, without his continual service as agent and spokesman,
and without his belief and support of her art, O'Keeffe's public identity would
surely have suffered. Robinson also shows us the difficulty of O'Keeffe's com-
promise life after she began to live with Stieglitz. One begins to understand the
great demands Stieglitz placed on her. And the reader learns that O'Keeffe in
1933 suffered a nervous breakdown. It was a complicated relationship that
O'Keeffe and Stieglitz maintained. Mutually dependent, mutually supportive,
and equally difficult for them both, the relationship and marriage endured at
various levels of contentment until Stieglitz's death.
Roxana Robinson's book relates O'Keeffe's life in a nonexalted tone. Here is
the story of an extraordinary woman, but we are informed of O'Keeffe's fears,
failings, illnesses, infirmities and insecurities in addition to learning about her
independence, strength, successes, and masterful achievements. The book is
long, well documented, and enlightening. The first few chapters-especially
those establishing the genealogy of the O'Keeffe families-are somewhat
stilted, but the author seems to relax into the book and the writing improves as
the life story itself becomes more interesting.
Where Robinson often misses the mark is when she makes judgments about
other artists' work, particularly in the case of Marsden Hartley, whom she dis-
misses as minor. Where Robinson truly succeeds is in her painstaking research
and her ability to interweave a complicated and fascinating life that lasted for
almost a century. Georgia O'Keeffe A Lfe is the best biography to date of one of

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed September 22, 2014.