'One last reason I love this painting: at Today, we’re all starved of sleep. This painting feels like sleep .'

sarah sands

Sky Above Clouds IV, 1965, by Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), 8ft by 24ft, The Art Institute of Chicago, USA. Credit: Scala

Sarah Sands says:

I love Georgia O’Keeffe for her bold and expansive view of the world. I did think of choosing one of her floral genitalia pictures, but the feminism seemed a bit raw. This painting is from a later period and has a visionary quality. I think it was the journalist Keith Waterhouse who recommended: “Only look up.” His point was that, even in the gutter – where journalists have often ended up – you can still see the sky.

Since I’ve been partly living in Norfolk, I’ve become more preoccupied by skies and the vivid colours of clouds before dusk. When I chose this picture, I was about to fly to Cape Town – also a place of wondrous skies. You can travel without seeing. O’Keeffe looked out of plane windows and captured eternity. One last reason I love this painting: at Today, we’re all starved of sleep. This painting feels like sleep .

Sarah Sands is the editor of Radio 4’s Today

John McEwen comments on Sky Above Clouds IV:

Georgia O’Keeffe first visited Europe when she was 65 and, with the availability of long-haul flights, began travelling extensively when she was 71, visiting South-East Asia, the Far East, India, the Middle East and Italy. Flying resulted in numerous sketches and paintings of rivers, landscapes and clouds as seen from the air.

Since 1949, she had lived permanently in New Mexico, dividing her time between two houses – winter and spring at Abiquiu and summer and autumn at Ghost Ranch. This painting, answering her ambition to fill a really large canvas, was done at Ghost Ranch. She was 77. ‘It kept me working every minute from six a.m. till eight or nine at night as I had to be finished before it was cold – I worked in the garage and it had no heat – Such a size is of course ridiculous but I had it in my head as something I wanted to do for a couple of years so I finally got at it and had a fine time – Not my best and not my worst.’ Today, it is her most famous work.

In 1970, an O’Keeffe retrospective toured three major American cities. The painting proved too big for the doors of the museum in San Francisco, so it remained on loan at the Art Institute of Chicago until, after a decade, the money was raised to buy it for the permanent collection. It was an appropriate home. She had enrolled there as a student in 1905 and, in 1943, the institute was the first museum to honour her with a retrospective.