Inspired by the Journey: Peru

In addition to our amazing new Museum exhibition, Miguel Covarrubias: Drawing a Cosmopolitan Line, we are also presenting, Inspired by the Journey, which incorporates a number of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings inspired by her travels abroad to places such as Peru and Japan.

O’Keeffe travels to Peru in March of 1956 and stays well into June. It is fall while she is there and she notes that “the sun never shines”. Still, she is quite taken with the “fantastic country” including the mountains, ruins, people and even its politics. She writes to several friends about the thrill of it all, the extreme altitude changes and her harrowing experiences on the narrow mountain roads where “when you look out your car window there seems to be no bottom to the side of the mountain.” On June 17, 1956, O’Keeffe writes Margaret (Peggy) Kiskadden from Peru:

“Many days have been spent in as beautiful country as I have ever seen – dry – dry desert where really nothing grows – high – high mountains – wonderful valleys – always with a river – the sort of country that is in some strange way unbelievable so in memory it is more like a dream – Always there is the half real mystery of the Inca and other people before time – and now the fabulous politics of the moment – It is fantastic it is really hard to believe – “

She creates a number of graphite drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings of Peruvian landscapes, in which she is not concerned with creating a realistic detail of the landscapes or archaeological sites; rather she emphasizes the abstract and dynamic qualities through use of vibrant color and plunging diagonal lines.

O’Keeffe was particularly interested in the Incan ruins including Sacsayhuamán, a complex on the outskirts of Cusco, Peru. The Incan complex is made of large stone walls, perfectly fit together without the use of mortar. Among O’Keeffe’s Peruvian travel ephemera are dozens of postcards depicting Sacsayhuamán and other stone ruins. She creates at least six graphite drawings and an oil painting of the site, where, like her other works from Peru, she focuses on the abstract patterns.

After Peru, O’Keeffe’s next big trip to a different continent is her trip around the world in 1959, which included stops in: East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia, and Italy. More on O’Keeffe’s world travels to come…

Liz Ehrnst, Archives and Digital Collections Librarian