Selections from the Abiquiu Bookroom: early instruction and a retrospective

Georgia O’Keeffe attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1905 to 1906. Though brief, O’Keeffe valued the instruction she received during this period. Many, including O’Keeffe herself, have written about the impact this training had on her development as an artist. Chicago retained a presence in her life as it was there that she had her first retrospective in 1943. Her library contains bulletins, special publications and catalogs from the Art Institute. The Human Figure and Georgia O’Keeffe are two books from her library that illiuminate her relationship with the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Human Figure was written by Art Institute instructor, John Henry Vanderpoel (1857-1911), and was used as a textbook for drawing classes. Vanderpoel himself played a large role in art history, and in O’Keeffe’s early development. Vanderpoel made quite the impact on O’Keeffe as one of her instructors at the Art Institute. She said of Vanderpoel and his book:

I always looked forward to those lectures. They helped me with the drawings of casts and with the Life Class. When the lectures were printed in his book, “The Human Figure”, I bought the book and treasured it for many years. He was a very kind, generous little man – one of the few real teachers I have known.

O’Keeffe, Georgia. Georgia O’Keeffe. New York: Viking Press, 1976.

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O’Keeffe’s first retrospective was held at the Art Institute nearly 40 years later in 1943. An exhibition catalog from the retrospective was kept in O’Keeffe’s personal library. This copy was inscribed to her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, from the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, Daniel Catton Rich.

Additional Resources:

Robinson, Roxana. Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

Lisle, Laurie. Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. Albuquerque, NM: University of Albuquerque New Mexico, 1986.

The Art Institute of Chicago: Library Exhibitions

For more on Henry J. Vanderpoel:

Illinois Art Project 

The John H. Vanderpoel Art Association 

Tori Duggan

Research Center Associate