Torrid Romance: Georgia O'Keeffe & Alfred Stieglitz
You're probably familiar with Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe as preeminent 20th Century photographer and painter, respectively. But the artists also shared a decades-long relationship that incorporated all the tropes of a classic love affair: admiration, infatuation, romance, sex, marriage, art, jealousy, infidelity and ... letters.
Yes, letters. According to experts, from 1915 to 1946 the duo's epistolary correspondence added up to 25,000 pieces of paper. And we're not talking "Do you like me? Circle one: YES / NO" but rather long (sometimes 40-pages long) musings on life, art, love and marriage.
Stieglitz and O'Keeffe's relationship began in 1916. He was 52 and well established in the art world as a photographer and gallerist, an advocate for the avant-garde and a promoter of fine arts photography. After seeing drawings by O'Keeffe, a 28-year-old teacher living in Texas, he exhibited the pieces in his gallery (without her permission, according to a Stieglitz bio), and they eventually began corresponding.
When O'Keeffe moved to New York the following year, Stieglitz found her a studio and encouraged her painting and drawing. By this point the professional admiration had morphed into physical attraction and Stieglitz boldly photographed O'Keeffe nude in the apartment he shared with his wife, Emmy. Subsequently the Stieglitzs' divorce was in motion, and Alfred and O'Keeffe moved in together and eventually married in 1924.
Seeking creative inspiration, O'Keeffe visited New Mexico in 1928 and spent a majority of her time in the Southwest from that point forward. Stieglitz remained in the east, busy with his photography, exhibits, various galleries and publications. He continued to champion O'Keeffe's work, which had earned her an artistic reputation as well as commercial success.
They spent the next decades mostly apart and letters sustained their relationship through the distance, infidelities (on both sides) and professional successes and road blocks. In 1946 Stieglitz was hospitalized from a stroke and died, O'Keeffe by his side (after displacing his latest lover). O'Keeffe dedicated herself to Stieglitz's legacy, editing his mounted work into a "Key Set" which she then donated to the National Gallery.
With Valentine's Day soon upon us, perhaps this will serve as inspiration to pick up your pen and post an old fashioned note to your one and only. Signing off just like O'Keeffe and Stieglitz: "XOXO BFFS 4 EVER"
** Want more letters? Check out Sarah Greenough's book "My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: 1915 - 1933"