Georgia O'Keeffe

Summer Days

On view
Floor 7



Oil on canvas

Overall: 36 1/8 × 30 1/8in. (91.8 × 76.5 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Gift of Calvin Klein

Rights and reproductions
© Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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.” 


  • Human Interest, Kids

    Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936

    Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936


    Melanie Adsit: This is a very different kind of portrait than the portraits we've been looking at, so far. Do you consider this to be a portrait?

    I think it's a portrait because a portrait doesn't have to be, actually accurate. It could be anything, as long as it represents someone, some place, something, some idea, an image.

    Melanie Adsit: What symbols do we see in this painting? What do you think they might represent?

    This is a place of mountains and desert. The skull is like in the sky, which means they passed away.

    I, totally agree with that. It's really high rocks, or small mountains, or jagged hills. It represents the hardness, the challenging, the viciousness of where they live, or what's around them. The flowers are rest in peace and there's always hope. Even in the barrenness of desert, there’s always life.

    Melanie Adsit:
    I love the way that you guys are talking about this, in terms of symbols of life and death. This artist's name was Georgia O'Keeffe. She lived here in New York, but she traveled to New Mexico every summer. She loved the landscape in New Mexico, and would collect things when she was out there. Not only would she collect flowers, she would also collect bones and skulls. She said that sometimes the bones were strangely more living than the animals walking around.

    This skull has a huge soul, as a huge representation. It's part of a big soul of the desert of New Mexico. It lives in soul, spirit, in our minds, and in our memories, instead of living through flesh and blood.

  • America Is Hard to See

    Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936

    Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936


    Narrator: Like a mirage, a deer skull hovers in the sky above wild flowers. The artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, didn’t like to explain her paintings. To her, they were simple records of what she saw around her. Walking in the desert, she collected bones that had been bleached by the New Mexico sun.

    Georgia O'Keeffe: The bones do not symbolize death to me. They are shapes that I enjoy. It never occurs to me they have anything to do with death. They are very lively. They please me. And I have enjoyed them very much in relation to the sky.

    Narrator: O’Keeffe, who began her career in New York, eventually began living in the American Southwest in 1929. 

    Georgia O'Keeffe: When I got to New Mexico that was mine. As soon as I saw it that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before but it fitted to me exactly. Like something that’s in the air—it’s just different. The sky is different, the stars are different, the wind is different. 

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