Great Works: Single Lily with Red, 1928 (30.5cm x 15.9cm), Georgia O'Keeffe

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

The point about flowers as they were so often painted by some of the great still-life painters of, say, the 17th century in Holland, is that for the most part each flower was one amongst many. No flower was a self-preening individualist. No flower said: 'look at me in all my separately seductive gorgeousness, passing stranger'. Each separate bloom belonged to a great cascading of colour, a marvellous tonal agglomeration, a huge, peacockishly fan-like shapeliness.

What is more, it is the fact of the pleasing generality of those scenes, which may well have included a brace or two of dead birds (paintings are odour-free), that not only engages us, but also made paintings of this kind so saleable to those art-thirsty Dutch burghers in their heady state of prideful, newly won independence. Each flower was one amongst many, and each one was relatively – yes, relatively speaking – small. Each one belonged to a kind of chorus-line of flowers. There was no star turn. What is more, most of those kinds of paintings were wholly morally unexceptionable. They could hang anywhere. There was nothing to cause offence. Children were not corrupted. Flowers were nothing but flowers: beautiful, and extremely pricey when rare indeed. In short, they were a matchless export, painted or not.

Now look at this painting by Georgia O'Keeffe, painted in the middle of the 1920s. The rules have all changed. O'Keeffe believes in flowers as individuals – and individualists. She wants them to strut their stuff. She wants them to be more than they often seem to be when offered, awkwardly, by a man (by way of apology for a long, hard night) in their crinkly-papered bunches. Just look at the comeliness, the singular shapeliness of this lily. It seems to want to stretch so tall in order to remind us of the full extent of its beauty. You could call it balletic in the way that it yearns almost to fling itself backwards against that luxurious-looking ground of rich green leaf, set against an even richer red. Those background colours enhance the sense of the flower's own singular presence amongst us. They make it seem even more precious than ever. In fact, this particular variety of lily was not especially rare or precious amongst blooms – sometimes it was even despised.

Here it is a shockingly forthright presence, looming particularly large, as large as it would be if an insect were to be ogling it. And, yes, that is exactly our perspective as we look at it, peering just over the brim of the cup of its calyx, though not very far. We are more bees than human at this moment. Its size almost overshadows us. It looms over us, almost menacingly. We feel almost stiflingly close up to it – and this sense of our proximity is enhanced by the fact that we do not see the flower and its partially enclosing leaf in their entirety. We have zoomed in too close to see everything, and by choosing to represent it in this way, O'Keeffe has also, simultaneously, slightly reduced the degree of realism. She has nudged the flower, though authentic enough thanks to its sheeny, almost tackily waxy presence, which is so lovingly and painstakingly rendered, in the direction of a more generalised emblem of shapeliness. She has also emphasised its anthropomorphic qualities. We could even argue that she has nudged us into looking at it as a partial representation of the luxuriously clothed female body, presented to us partially enveloped in that cloak-like green ground. Let us not push this analogy too far, though. O'Keeffe responded furiously when her critics grossly sexualised her flower paintings. Let us stop at that.


Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) grew up in the American MidWest and spent much of her life in the wilds of New Mexico. Her painting helped to redefine the American painterly idiom during the 1920s in reaction against the dominant aesthetic of Europe. Her painting has been loosely described as "magic realism", which means that she invested real things with a kind of heightened aura of singularity which at times drifted in the direction of Surrealism. Many of her greatest paintings were of flowers and New York City. The first category she painted with a ferocious and almost brutal panache. She was married to the celebrated photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower