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American Scenes

Skyscrapers and City Scenes
Georgia O’Keeffe, <i>City Night</i>, 1926, oil on canvas
zoom Georgia O’Keeffe, City Night, 1926, oil on canvas


In 1925, Georgia O’Keeffe moved into the Shelton Hotel in downtown New York. In this brand new skyscraper, O’Keeffe and her husband, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, had an apartment on the thirtieth floor. That high vantage point inspired O’Keeffe to paint the quickly changing cityscape of New York.

O’Keeffe’s cityscapes focused on skyscrapers. During 1925, forty-five skyscrapers were built in New York, the most in one year. The skyscraper was very much an American symbol of modern technology. Many painters and photographers found themselves drawn to this new subject. From 1925 to 1929, O’Keeffe created thirty skyscraper pictures.

“One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.” O’Keeffe wanted people to sense the overwhelming size of the skyscrapers being built up around her. So she painted the buildings from unusual angles and perspectives. Her husband, who photographed the skyscrapers, may have influenced how O’Keeffe painted her cityscapes. When you look at them, you feel like you are viewing them from the ground, peering up through a camera lens.

City Night is rather ominous. Two forbidding black skyscrapers look ready to topple onto each other—or maybe onto us. A mysterious light (the moon? a streetlight?) shines into the slice of blue night sky between the buildings. Another skyscraper, bright white, appears in the distance. Its shape resembles that of the Shelton Hotel, O’Keeffe’s home.

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1. O’Keeffe lived in New York City for many years.
2. O’Keeffe’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz, also focused on skyscrapers in his photographs. (Alfred Stieglitz, Old and New New York, 1910, photogravure)
3. In the 1930s, photographer Bernice Abbott dedicated herself to photographing the changing environment of New York City. (Bernice Abbott, New York at Night, 1934, gelatin silver print)


December 2005