|Acquisition Number: 72.35
Medium: Watercolor on paper
Size: 19 1/2" x 13 1/2"
Credit: Gift of Mr. Ralph L. Wilson
Charles Ephraim Burchfield, born in Ashtabula Harbor and grew up in Salem, Ohio. His empathy with nature led him to an exaggerated style in which the landscape seems to be inhabited by spirits. Burchfield is known for experimenting with converting the sounds of nature into a system of symbolic strokes.
Unlike his inward life, his outward life was deceptively simple, one of work. After his father’s death, his mother moved to Salem, Ohio where he attended public schools and worked from the seventh grade onward. After graduation from high school, he attended the Cleveland School of Art intending to become an illustrator, but while there, he decided to be a painter. After serving as a camouflage artist in the army, he moved to Buffalo, New York in 1921 and for almost a decade designed wallpaper. In 1929, when Frank K. M. Rehn became his dealer, he was able to devote himself to painting.
His career can be divided into three distinct phases: during the first, which ended about 1918 Burchfield painted landscapes often based on childhood memories and fantasies, during, the second, from about 1918 to 1943; he portrayed the grimy streets and rundown buildings of the eastern Ohio area; and during third, from 1943 until his death, he returned to landscapes, investing them with a kind of ecstatic poetry.
Burchfield valued the intensity of his work and avoided wasting it: “My instinct has always been to shut off all means of self-expression except the brush, so that its product might be all the more intense”. Watercolor was his favorite medium, and he worked in any one of three different ways. “I go out and paint directly from a subject – or use a subject to improvise; or I work, and then bring the work into the studio and complete; or, I sketch, and then do the whole picture in the studio”.
Watercolor was ideal for his swift, intuitive responses for the qualities he was able to capture on paper. Few artists have surpassed his ability to transmit the emotions that nature stirred in him.