Georgia O’Keeffe & Alfred Stieglitz:
A Bond Forged in Artistry and Romance
*Honoring the 130th Anniversary of the Mother of Modernism’s birth
on November 15th, 1887
The marriage between the Scorpio born painter Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband, the Capricorn photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, was a union of both romantic and artistic inspiration. Defying tradition and standardized marriage protocol, the relationship between these two artistic powerhouses often appeared as if between familial relations with the two not seeing each other for months at a time, yet their bond lasted for three decades broken only by Death parting them.
The dynamic shared between Modern Art’s most famous married couple very much mirrored their astrological elements of Water and Earth being in a complementary state to each other. Like another legendary female Water and male Earth signed couple of notoriety, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning writing nearly 600 letters over the course of their 20 month courtship, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz exchanged close to some 5,000 letters (25,000 pages of correspondence) over the course of their 20 year marriage together.
“I’m getting to like you so tremendously that it sometimes scares me… Having told you so much of me — more than anyone else I know — could anything else follow but that I should want you.” –
Letter written by O’Keeffe to Stieglitz, November 4th, 1916
“It’s queer how fond I am of you, not at all as man and woman but something so different it’s very wonderful and it hurts terribly.”
Response written by Stieglitz November, 1916
As individuals, both the personal and artistic lives of the two artists embodied the core characteristics associated with the signs each was born under.
Photography? As an art form!?
At the end of the 19th century, photography was seen as an expensive, time consuming hobby observed only by the rich and never taken too seriously….until Alfred Stieglitz hit the scene.
Single handedly, the man born beneath the sign of status elevated this burdensome pastime (the majority of photographs from the turn of the century were taken with the assistance of a cumbersome tripod) into an art form which rivaled the hallowed mediums of both painting and sculpture. Buying his first hand held camera as he entered his Saturn Return in 1893, the Capricorn was showing and selling his photographs throughout the salons of Europe and earning a repute of high artistry in under 2 years time. Capricorn is one of the tangible earth signs and with his photos displaying daily life in both New York City and Europe, Alfred Stieglitz was able to tangibly change what society deemed as “Art”.
Alfred Stieglitz, “Winter – 5th Avenue”, 1893
In 1907, Stieglitz boarded the ocean liner SS Kaiser Wilhelm II headed to New York after one of his yearly excursions to Europe. Traveling first class on the ship’s uppermost deck, the Capricorn was given the perfect photographic opportunity upon viewing the peasants and working public located 2 levels below him in 3rd class. Using his 4×5 hand held Auto-Graflex camera which processed photographs via glass negatives, Stieglitz only had one glass negative at his disposal at the time and thus could only take a single solitary shot. This one photo entitled “The Steerage” not only is considered one of the first examples of Modern Art, it’s believed by many to be one of the greatest photographs of all time by capturing the age in which it was taken.
Born beneath the sign known for being hyper realistic, Stieglitz’s iconic photograph demonstrated how realism, as any other thing considered “high art” can convey universal truth.
Alfred Stieglitz, “The Steerage”, 1907
Scorpionic artist Georgia O’Keeffe climbed a prestigious path of artistic instruction and education, only to forgo her formal training to pursue her own unique outlets of creative self-expression.
Contrary to popular belief, when the two artists first met in 1916 the atmosphere was anything but romantic or inspirational.
Born on New Year’s Day in 1864, Stieglitz was 52 when he first encountered O’Keeffe and had already earned international fame and numerous accolades for his work, along with owning NYC’s most avante garde art gallery enigmatically called “291”. Despite being completely unknown at the beginning of her Saturn Return at the age of 29, Georgia O’Keeffe was shocked to hear her work was being exhibited at that very same avant garde gallery in downtown Manhattan.
A fact made known to the young painter only after being informed by a friend who had personally seen Georgia’s work being put on display there.
O’Keeffe entered Stieglitz’s gallery for the sole purpose of berating its exploitative owner for exhibiting her work without permission. Instead, she was introduced to one of the most devoted enthusiasts of her talent whom she would eventually marry.
The sign of Capricorn is ruled by Saturn, the planet which oversees the concept of Time. Time is an observable factor that can be applied to the friends and acquaintances with whom the Saturn ruled associate with at various stages of their life. The Goat person in their more formative, younger years will have a proclivity to spend time with older, more mature types. Conversely, the Capricorn seasoned by age will tend to gravitate towards those that are significantly younger than themselves during the later stages of their usually long lived lives.
Alfred Stieglitz was no exception to this Capricorn rule.
In the excerpt below from a letter written to O’Keeffe in 1929, not only does Stieglitz openly point out their wide difference of age with the words “twenty five years”, the Capricorn also uses as a descriptor the dynamic his element of Earth shares with her element of Water with the word “complementary”.
“What you feel beyond you is in your blood — what I feel beyond me is in the center of me, my blood, too. Twenty-five years in a way make a difference. And man and woman are complementary.”
Alfred Stieglitz, letter to Georgia O’Keeffe, August 5th, 1929
Despite being 23 years her senior and already married, the Capricorn opened up his heart to the mysterious Scorpio whose harsh and unadorned beauty was inescapably captivating to him.
Although Stieglitz claimed he had “no sense for business”, the pioneering photographer was born beneath the sign known for its inherent administrative skills and business savvy. Upon meeting an initially irate O’Keeffe, the man of such reputable artistic merit became the greatest champion of her work by organizing major exhibitions of Georgia’s art and promoting her talent at every opportune moment possible until the end of his life.
With Stieglitz’s influential pull of artistic notoriety both as a photographer and respected impresario, Georgia O’Keeffe became the most famous female artist of her time. The man whom the artistic elite would later call “The Godfather of Modern Art” drew top dollar for his lover’s work, eventually allowing for the Scorpionic painter to be crowned with an auspicious title of her own – “The Mother of American Modernism”.
It must be said I am always astounded whenever discovering Art and Life itself imitating Astrology. Georgia O’Keeffe was not only born beneath the sign of Scorpio, the iconic painter was born a TRIPLE Scorpio. In other words, when she entered this plane of existence on November 15th, 1887, not only was Ms. O’Keeffe’s Sun positioned in the sign of the Scorpion, the Moon and the Horizon, or Rising Sign were ALL positioned in that same sign as well.
Georgia O’Keeffe – The Embodiment of Scorpionic Energy
Some fundamental aspects associated with the middle representative of the element of Water better known as the sign of Scorpio:
Scorpio’s symbol is the desert dwelling creature, the Scorpion, the House which Scorpio naturally rules over is the 8th, otherwise known as the House of Death, and the body part assigned to the sign of Scorpio are the genitals.
Georgia O’Keeffe is primarily known for her paintings of bleached animal bones (Death) she encountered while roaming the New Mexico and Texas panhandle deserts (Home of the Scorpion). She is also well known for painting large canvases of calla lilies and other flowers from extremely close perspectives, where the viewer would be unsure what the subject matter was, at first. Many critics described these distorted flower paintings as magnified depictions of the female genitalia (Scorpio’s body part).
Georgia O’Keeffe, “Cow Bones and Pelvis“, 1962
The Triple Scorpio showed so much artistic potential while still an art student that in 1908 O’Keeffe won the prestigious William Merritt Chase Still-Life Prize for her oil painting, “Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot” (emphasis on the Scorpionic state of no longer being alive).
Georgia O’Keeffe, “Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot“, 1908
Still waters run deep, especially when those waters are of a Scopionic nature. The typical Scorpio abhors small talk and likes to speak in a most direct and straightforward manner. Georgia O’Keeffe clearly displayed this kind of behavior whenever asked to explain her work, firmly believing the essence of Art could never be adequately expressed in words:
“Colors & line & shape seem for me a more definite statement than words.”
“I think I’d rather let the painting work for itself than help it with the word.”
In regards to her own death which occurred at the ripe old age of 98 in 1986, the Scorpio referred to the habitat of the scorpion (aka the deserts of New Mexico) when Ms. O’Keeffe said the following:
“When I think of death, I only regret that I will not be able to see this beautiful country anymore, unless the Indians are right and my spirit will walk here after I’m gone.”
Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe were each artistic geniuses in their own right and from a personal perspective, geniuses are never easy to deal with and tend to be difficult at best, especially whenever residing beneath the same roof.
The Scorpio and the Capricorn were inherently aware of each other’s genius temperaments and their marriage wouldn’t have lasted past a year if a sense of relaxed trust wasn’t instilled within their matrimonial bond from the very start.
Throughout the duration of their marriage, every summer Alfred would stay in NYC and vacation at his family’s cottage in Lake George, NY while Georgia would travel to New Mexico to paint, with the two not seeing each other for months at a time. Many of Alfred’s letters to his wife began with a salutation of deepest longing, addressing Georgia as “My Faraway One“.
Both husband and wife had romantic affairs with outside parties (he more than she), but with each artist inherently knowing the other’s tryst would be short lived and that no one but themselves could ever truly understand the depth of their romantically artistic bond that was utterly unique.
A bond much like the elemental interweaving of Water with Earth which over time can create a masterpiece of natural beauty as wondrous as the Grand Canyon.
* Cover image, Georgia O’Keeffe, “Petunias”, 1925
*Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.