Thesis Title

Summer Days

Major Department

Art History


College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Fall 2016

Honors Major Advisor

Christopher Roy

Thesis Mentor

Dorothy Johnson


In writing my honors thesis, Summer Days, I was particularly interested in exemplifying how the characteristics of Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1936 painting, Summer Days, defied the general publics’ preconceived notions of her as an artist whose brushstroke was limited to what was coined as ‘feminine’ subject matter. As Summer Days divulges into a harsher narrative of a barren desert scene struck by the skull of a deer suspended amid a smoky, white washed sky, it was my mission to acknowledge the fact this painting, as well as others of O’Keeffe’s desert scene paintings, challenged so much that was publicized about her. As O’Keeffe had been overly associated with the sensual connotations attached to her iconic flower paintings, I felt that Summer Days, deserved to be further explored. Research was primarily lead by a few initial interests, which lead to the:

  • Identification of the symbolism associated with each of the elements in the painting and recognizing their relationship to one another.
  • Recognition of the significance/purpose of the presence of the deer skull.
  • Comparison and contrast among Summer Days and works that depicted similar subject matter, such as O’Keeffe’s: The Horse's Skull on Blue, 1930; Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue, 1931; Cow's Skull with Calico Roses, Horse's Skull with Pink Rose, and the Ram's Head, White Hollyhock-Hills, all completed in 1935; Deers Skull With Pedernal, 1936; From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937; and lastly the Ram's Head, Blue Morning Glory, 1938.
Through the exploration of such interests, I concluded that:
  • Summer Days is a great example in which O’Keeffe was able to create a hybrid between still life (which was recognized as a historically female subject) and abstract painting (a modern style, that was primarily associated with male artists) as the painting features elements of both.
  • O’Keeffe’s artistic persona had been artificially crafted by her husband and promoter, Alfred Stieglitz, despite the fact that O’Keeffe largely denied claims that her sexuality and feminine identity clouded/overwhelmed her works. Summer Days is a direct example that O’Keeffe was interested in more than just ‘female appropriate’ still life paintings.
Reflection Overall, I was pleased with the research and if I were to continue writing, I would especially like to re-evaluate O’Keeffe’s works using a feminist art theory, in opposition to the many Freudian readings. Especially as I believe they are responsible for generalized gendered interpretations of O’Keeffe’s works.


Georgia O'Keeffe, Summer Days, O'Keeffe, Skulls, Animal Skull, O'Keeffe's depiction of animal skulls

Total Pages

25 pages


Copyright © 2016 Victoria Erickson