Flying Backbone

Georgia O’Keeffe

1887 - 1986

Flying Backbone

1944

Oil on canvas
11 x 25 1/4 in. (27.9 x 64.1 cm)
Framed: 16 x 30 x 1 7/8 in. (40.6 x 76.2 x 4.8 cm)

O’Keeffe’s paintings often subvert scale and perspective. At times her work magnifies the interior anatomy of flowers; in Flying Backbone she positions a cow’s lumbar vertebra so that it appears larger than a mountain range in New Mexico. The work continues O’Keeffe’s tendency to remain within the tradition of realism but present her subjects in unexpected configurations. The smooth, reductive surfaces of the bone and landscape perform an abstracting function similar to that of the insistent geometry and disassociated lights of Radiator Building—Night, New York. The inversion of scale also suggests Surrealism.

After 1929, O’Keeffe divided her time between living alone in New Mexico and living in New York with Stieglitz. The two paintings she gave to Fisk represent both places she called home, and each presents its subject heroically from an elevated perspective. O’Keeffe’s pairing of Flying Backbone with the painting bearing Stieglitz’s name positions it as a memento mori for her dead husband.