Skeletons are scary, especially on Halloween when they’re most likely to chase you down a dark street – clackity clack. But not all bones are frightening, in fact they can be quite beautiful. Many famous artists have had an affinity for bones incorporating them into masterpieces. Leonardo drew them, Rembrandt painted them, Edvard Munch made etchings of them and modern sculpture Sui Jianguo assembled them. Horse and cow bones held a particular fascination for American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe.

O’Keeffe viewed bones as intimate objects, to be admired for their simplicity. Living in the desert southwest she would pick up bones, stones and flowers and bring them home to study their form.

As an art student O’Keeffe was taught to recreate or copy nature, until she met Arthur Wesley Dow, who taught students that their work should be based on personal style, design and interpretation rather than trying to represent a painted copy of an object.

O’Keeffe was already an accomplished abstract artist when she moved to New Mexico. Her work evolved inspired more by a sense of emptiness and isolation where the immediacy of a flower or bone became the most significant element in that moment. She reduced the detail of objects to reach their pure geometry.

“When I found the beautiful white bones on the desert I picked them up and took them home too. I have used these things to say what is to me the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it. To me they are as beautiful as anything I know,” Georgia O’Keeffe said. “To me they are strangely more living than the animals walking around. The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the desert even though it is vast and empty and untouchable—and knows no kindness with all its beauty”

Georgia O'Keeffe

Horse Skull on blue, 1930

Georgia O'Keeffe

Horse Skull with White Rose, 1931

Georgia O'Keeffe

Horse’s Skull with Pink Rose, 1932

Georgia O'Keeffe

Mule Skull with Pink Poinsettia, 1936

Georgia O'Keeffe

Horizontal Horse Skull with Feather, 1936

In 2014, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum sold an untitled painting of a white weed blossom for $44.4 million, a record for a female artist. FYI – Georgia O’Keeffe never signed her paintings.

Feature Photograph is Georgia O’Keeffe caressing a horse skull. Photo by Alfred Stieglitz, an American photographer, modern art promoter and O’Keefe’s husband.

Images Courtesy the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum  and The MetMuseum.