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Georgia O'Keeffe

Summer Days
1936

On view
Floor 7

Date
1936

Classification
Paintings

Medium
Oil on canvas

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

Accession number
94.171

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 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.” 

Visual Description

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Summer Days is a vertical oil painting on canvas. It is about 3 feet tall by 2.5 feet wide. The paint handling is smooth and even across the surface of the work. It depicts a large deer skull with antlers and a bouquet of wildflowers floating in the clouds above a mountainous desert landscape.

A nearly life-sized skull dominates the work. The head is tilted forward — so that the viewer sees its top—and is painted in creamy white and beige tones. O’Keeffe paid particular attention to anatomical detail, such as eye sockets, ridges along the snout, and a fissure that runs from above the eyes to the nasal cavity, emphasizing the form’s symmetry. The skull is centered on the work’s vertical axis and stretches from the top edge of the canvas, which is grazed by the tip of its left antler, to just below the middle of the composition.

A few inches below the hollow nasal passage of the skull, there is a loosely arranged bouquet of five flowers. A red bloom floats on the clouds beneath the skull, and two pink and two yellow flowers stretch diagonally up toward the right, with the upper petals of the topmost yellow blossom at the same height as the skull’s nose.

The skull and the flowers appear to rest weightlessly atop the clouds, which are rendered in a soft white tinged with subtle greys and fill the composition from left to right. It is only in the bottom fifth of the canvas, beneath the flowers, that blue sky starts to peek through the clouds, just above the mountains. The undulating landscape, painted in a range of earthly orange hues, stretches across the bottom of the composition from left to right. The mountains appear to be far in the distance, occupying only a few inches of the lower register of the painting.






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