The magnified images of flowers that Georgia O'Keeffe painted became her best known and most celebrated paintings. In the present painting, Sunflower of 1921, O'Keeffe creates a perfect balance of form and color, emphasizing the natural harmonies of the flowers and of nature. "Her celebration of flowers was an expression of her feeling for the world around her, a reminder, bold and insistent, of a force besides that of speed and noise and machinery. Here was something else: ravishingly lovely, silent, breathtaking, and surprising." (R. Robinson, Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life, New York, 1989, p. 277)
Sunflower reflects the pictorial strategies that O'Keeffe had developed as an avant-garde American Modernist. The image is at once an objective interpretation of a sunflower as well as a meditation on form and color. Whereas many Modernists such as Charles Sheeler, John Marin and Arthur Dove turned to the industrial sector for guidance and inspiration in subject matter, O'Keeffe embraced the natural world. "O'Keeffe's work, a counter-response to technology, was soft, voluptuous and intimate. Full of rapturous colors and yielding surfaces, it furnishes a sense of astonishing discovery. . . Though the work is explicitly feminine, it is convincingly and triumphantly powerful, a combination that had not before existed." (R. Robinson, Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life, New York, 1989, p. 278)
Sunflower is a fraction of the size of her large-scale canvases of flowers. O'Keeffe painted a series of smaller, jewel-like representations of a single or group of flowers. On a much more intimate scale, Sunflower and other small works, through the ingenious manipulation of color, form and composition, carry an equally powerful visual impact to the larger floral paintings. By magnifying a small, traditionally feminine subject, she creates a bold abstraction. The curves of the petals and leaves are transformed into expanses of delicately modulated color. At the same time monumental and intimate, the work reflects the artist's dedication to showing the viewer the beauty and wonder in nature.