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A Sense of Place

City Night
Georgia O'Keeffe, <i>City Night</i>, 1926, oil on canvas
zoom Georgia O'Keeffe, City Night, 1926, oil on canvas


Where are we? Is this an outer-space fantasy, with laser beams lighting up the darkness of the universe? Is it an earthly scene? Or are the shapes nothing more than shapes?

It takes a moment or two to make sense of the simple shapes in this picture. A glance at the title will help you: City Night. Perhaps you now see the shapes as towering buildings reaching up to the night sky around a low moon. Where would you stand to get this view?

Georgia O'Keeffe painted many pictures of Manhattan, the heart of New York City. New York was changing fast in the 1920s. Skyscrapers were brand new, changing the look and feel of city life. O'Keeffe lived in an apartment on the twenty-eighth floor of one of the city's first skyscrapers. Imagine the feeling of being up so high for the first time. This new point of view made her look differently at everything around her.

"One can't paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt," O'Keeffe said. What has she left out of the picture of New York? What does she tell us about how it felt to be there?