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Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936  94.171
Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936. Oil on canvas, 36 × 30 in. (91.4 × 76.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Calvin Klein  94.171 For Teachers
© 2009 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

about this work

In Summer Days, Georgia O’Keeffe suspended an animal skull and several Southwestern flowers above a barren desert landscape. The large scale of the bones and blossoms and their placement in the sky give the painting a surreal quality. For O’Keeffe, the animal skull and vibrant flowers were symbols of the cycles of life and death that shape the natural world. This composition belongs to a group of paintings in which the artist depicted the sun-bleached bones she brought back east from her summer sojourns in New Mexico. The deer, horse, mule, and steer skulls she collected, as one would gather wildflowers, became potent souvenirs of a landscape that had deeply inspired her. As she explained, “The bones cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive in the desert.”

Maxwell L. Anderson. American Visionaries: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2001), 228.


Audio guide stop: Wanda Corn on Georgia O’Keeffe’s Summer Days, 1936

Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936  94.171

Audio guide stop for Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936

look closer

Describe what you see in this painting.

What kind of place is this? 

Do you think this place is real or imaginary? Why do you think that?

Imagine you were in this place. What would you see around you?


Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936  94.171 For Teachers

Georgia O’Keeffe was inspired by things that she saw in nature. Sometimes she painted scenes that she imagined. Summer Days was described by some as Surrealist, but O’Keeffe saw nothing strange about this juxtaposition of enlarged skull and diminutive landscape.

Ask your students what they notice about the painting. Do they think this is a real or imaginary place? What do they see that makes them think that? 

Have them imagine that they could enter this painting. What sensory details might they notice (see, hear, touch, smell)? Have each student write down one word on an index card—a noun or an adjective—that most vividly describes what it might be like to be in the painting. Make a word wall that includes the image and students’ selected words. View and discuss the word wall with your students.


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