Red Canna – O’Keeffe’s Famous “Flower/Vagina” Painting

Title: Red Canna (1924)

Author: Georgia O’Keeffe (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, United States, November 15, 1887 – Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States, March 6, 1986)

Date: 1924

Genre: Abstract art

Movement: American modernism

Technique: Oil painting

Support: Canvas

Dimension: 29.0 × 18.0 in. (73.7 × 45.7 cm)

Location: A. Alfred Taubman’s private collection

What could it be if the smell of one blossom turned into a close-up flower image?

Nevertheless, it is not only a natural flower image but also an explosive, enlarged one that is striking!

The painting is not a straightforward nature study. Instead, it acts as a lifelike flower. To illustrate, its luminous colors and marking draw us into the painting precisely in the way real flowers entice an insect. The more the artwork pulls us, the more we lose ourselves.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1924, oil on canvas.

In the Red Canna (1924), the brilliant colorist Georgia O’Keeffe depicts her gift for discovering a simple flower transformed into an organic marvel.


I hope you are having a good day. Have you got anything planned for this afternoon? If not, come and join us; we will trace the blossom smell of one painting.

As we hurried on our way to examine the painting, we found ourselves thinking about what makes great art great. Then, when we saw Georgia O’Keeffe’s Red Canna, we found a way to answer this question.

Georgia O’Keeffe created loads of red canna paintings of the canna lily plant; first, she performed in watercolor, such as a red canna flower bouquet painted in 1915, but mainly abstract paintings of close-up images in oil. Even though Georgia O’Keeffe expressed that in these close-up images of “Red Canna” and her other flower paintings, she only illustrated flowers, these paintings are better known for the depiction of a vagina, rather than a flower!

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”

Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe is on her trip to Colorado River, 1961, Photo by Eliot Porter.
Georgia O'Keeffe is an individualist based on the abstract forms in nature, striking paintings of landscapes, flowers, and animal bones.

Today we will look at the Red Canna (1924). Shall we divulge all the essential and compelling details of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Red Canna?


Georgia O’Keeffe studied the abstract qualities of the things she found beautiful and used them as a form of self-expression.

Here she tries to seize the essence of the bloom by conveying the energy of its blossoming, decoding her detailed observation of the plant into a merging of lines, shapes, decadent colors. Even though it has abstract shapes, we can recognize the image is still a flower.

The existence of the petals, with their crimped edges, looks delicate, and you can see lines like the honeyguides that lead insects towards the pollen in the center of the flower.

Red Canna’s Technique

By and large, the beauty of organic forms fascinated O’Keeffe. From time to time, she would reduce complex still-life subjects to simple shapes by magnifying them and focusing on a particular detail in her paintings. It would not be wrong if we say, the Red Canna is a fabulous example of this.

Georgia O’Keeffe painted the Red Canna on a canvas mounted on masonite using the oil painting technique. In addition, she used a dramatic yet vibrant color palette, which led to an innovative sense of composition.

Georgia O’Keeffe, the mother of American modernism with her flowers.

What Can You See in the Red Canna?

The flower has action, gesture, form, and warmness!

Georgia O’Keeffe’s bold compositions, such as Red Canna and her other close-ups of flowers, made her works brilliantly innovative at a time when most other American painters were still producing far more traditional representative art.

Her flowers are far away from being conventional, and you can not see the full flowers in her magnified illustrations. Instead, she added dramatic impact by trimming the edges of the petals so that each flower would suit within the confined space of the picture frame.

Focal Point

You look straight into the fiery center of the flower, where strident reds, pinks, and oranges meet and where the plant’s reproductive parts are.

Sinuous Lines

Georgia O’Keeffe developed the flowing lines from a series of abstract charcoal drawings that she made in 1915, influenced by Art Nouveau plant motifs. Note how the lines flow right off the edges of the image.

Bold Shapes

The details in the Red Canna are in such a dramatic close-up. Therefore, we can take interpretations further by claiming that it feels as if you have an insect’s perspective. Each magnified part of the red canna is simplified down to a geometric shape and takes on an abstract quality.

Early in her career, Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky‘s ideas influenced Georgia O’Keeffe because of the connections between the visual arts and music. By which I mean, in the Red Canna, the fiery shapes of the petals appear like they are in a passionate dance.


Many critics interpret her flower paintings as abstract representations of female genitalia, although, O'Keeffe stated that she painted to mirror how she saw flowers.
1. Georgia O’Keeffe, Series I White & Blue Flower Shapes, 1919, oil on board.
2. Georgia O’Keeffe, Canna Red and Orange, 1926, oil on canvas.

Georgia O’Keeffe vehemently denied that her paintings had anything to do with female genitalia for her entire career. Moreover, she explained that she wanted to paint flowers, the way she saw them.

“So I said to myself “I’ll paint what I see” what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it. I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.

Well, I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower, and I don’t.

Georgia O’Keeffe

To read more on this topic, check out this post.

So, are her flowers just flowers, or are they simply not? What’s your take on this?


1. Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1915, Watercolor, Yale University Art Gallery.
2. Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1919, Oil on board, High Museum of Art.
3. Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1923, Oil on board, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
4. Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1925–1926, Oil on canvas, the University of Arizona Museum Of Art.
5. Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Cannas, 1927, Oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

Georgia O’Keeffe might be best known for her flower paintings, however throughout her life, she brought many different subjects into her artworks, and became one of the most famous abstract painters of the 20th century.

O’keeffe with Juan Hamilton’s pot, 1974. Photo by Laura Gilpin.

All was said by me, yet, the one more thing left to be told by Georgia O’Keeffe…

“We really haven’t found enough dreams. We haven’t dreamed enough.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

I have a few questions for you below.

What title would you give this painting?
How does this painting make you feel? 

You can share your answers with us in the comments:)

Last but not least, if you are into art, we will have a blast seeing you here.

Read about another significant female artist of the 20th century, here.

See you in our following review. ????✌