“When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me—some of them more than sixty years ago—I wonder who that person is,” said Georgia O’Keeffe. “It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives.”
Look through O’Keeffe’s diverse body of work, and you’ll see just what she meant. “Untitled (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot)” is a humble realist work she painted as an art student in her early 20s. She completed the abstracted, ephemeral landscape “Sky Above Clouds IV”, which is over 20 feet long, when she was almost 80. When they’re side-by-side it’s hard to believe that one artist created both.
The same is true for works that bookend any great artist’s career. Constant evolution is perhaps the most important ingredient to genius, as you’ll see in the images below. While you browse the early and late works of four legendary artists, ponder their differences. Does youthful enthusiasm and bold experimentation move you, or do you prefer a sure hand and a fully realized aesthetic? Join the conversation in the comments section below, or on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Paul Cezanne painted “Artist’s Father, Reading ‘L’Événement'” when he was in his early 20s and still partially under the thumb of his disapproving parent. The paper his father is reading—a liberal publication that the old man wouldn’t have deigned to open—and the still life painting hanging in the background hint at the artist’s growing confidence in his chosen path. Flash forward to the radical perspectival experimentation of “Gardanne”, completed when Cezanne was in his late 40s. The multi-layered cityscape would later inspire Picasso and Braque in their development of Cubism.
When Frida Kahlo was 19 years old she was in a trolley crash that left her in a full body cast. A year after the accident she created the pencil sketch on the left, drawing from the tradition of Mexican ex-voto paintings that blend text and images. A lifetime later, Kahlo was still suffering from chronic pain caused by the accident and drawing influences from folk art, but she’d discovered a subtler way to express her suffering. She painted “Still Life 1951” just three years before her death, when her body was giving out and she no longer favored self portraiture. The fleshy, congealing watermelon nestled among fresh fruits says it all. “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return,” she wrote just before her death.
“Les Saltimbanques” is a drypoint that Pablo Picasso created in his early 20s. The group of frolicking figures are characters from an opera-comique about a circus troupe. Countless artistic transformations later, Picasso etched out “Untitled (From the 156 Suite)“, an image that shows a tangle of prostitutes engaged in a very different acrobatic routine. Innocence is lost, but genius found.
Paul Gauguin was a 27-year-old family man working as a stockbroker and hanging out at the Impressionists’ favorite cafes when he painted “La Seine au Pont de Grenelle”. By his mid-40s, he’d abandoned his family and job and exiled himself to Tahiti, where he drew inspiration for woodblock print “Mahana Atua (The Day of God)“. The artist learned from one revolutionary movement and then struck off on his own to inspire several others, from Primitivism to Symbolism.