DC Moore Gallery is pleased to announce its first solo exhibition of work by Charles Burchfield (1893-1967). DC Moore began representing the Charles E. Burchfield Foundation earlier this year and this major exhibition, which will be on view from November 9 through December 23, presents important watercolors and drawings from the very beginning of Burchfield’s career through to his final years. The exhibition will be accompanied by a 72 page color catalogue.
Charles Burchfield is one of the preeminent and most inventive American artists of the twentieth century. Throughout most of his career, watercolor was his medium of choice, sometimes used in combination with gouache, graphite, charcoal, conté crayon, chalk, or pastel. During Burchfield’s lifetime three major periods in his work were generally acknowledged: an early period dating from roughly 1915 to 1921 when landscape was often treated in metaphysical, fantastic ways; a middle period dating from the early 1920s to the 1940s when realism reigned; and a late period which marked a return to a transcendental, mystical perspective. Some recent scholarship has challenged this view, emphasizing instead qualities evident throughout Burchfield’s entire career: his consistent aesthetic and cultural point of view, his desire to work from familiar surroundings, and the deep personal symbolism of his works, which probed the mysteries of nature in an attempt to reveal his inner emotions.
“Perhaps only Hopper can compare with Burchfield in his ability to sustain major achievement over a long period,” wrote Henry Adams, then Director of the Kemper Museum, in his 1997 essay Charles Burchfield’s Imagination. “But Hopper focused quite narrowly on a signature style, which he altered little from decade to decade, whereas Burchfield shifted from one mode to another, doing so with such assurance and authority that opinion has always been divided as to the most important phase of his work.”
Born in Astabula Harbor, Ohio in 1893, Burchfield grew up in the small town of Salem, Ohio. As a boy and young man, he spent countless hours walking through the nearby woods, developing a deep and life-long reverence for the natural world. Burchfield studied at the Cleveland School of Art from 1912 to 1916, graduating in 1916. By the age of 23, he was actively exhibiting and selling his work in Cleveland and New York City, where he had briefly attended the National Academy of Design. The mid to late-teens were a time in which everything Burchfield had been building towards artistically during his early maturation came together into an intensely personal and unique style.
Burchfield served as an artist in the Army during 1918 and 1919, after which he moved to Buffalo, New York to work as a designer for a wallpaper company. In 1922 he married and started a family, raising four daughters and a son. During the 1920s, he began to receive critical acclaim for his innovative use of watercolor and for his ability to capture the “great epic poetry of American life” in his paintings. Burchfield was fascinated by Buffalo’s streets, harbor, industrial areas, and surrounding countryside. In 1929, Frank Rehn Galleries in New York began representing Burchfield, allowing him to resign from his job as a designer and to paint full-time. The artist’s works of the 1930s and early 1940s are notable for their austerity and an almost classical largeness of structure. To match the subject matter and overall feel of these works, Burchfield developed a highly individual technique of heavy overlapping strokes of watercolor, which gave the medium a power and sobriety more commonly associated with oil paint.
The atmosphere which accompanied the war effort during the mid-1940s eventually led Burchfield to turn away from industrial subjects and return to the familiarity of the natural landscape and the environs of his studio. His increasingly expressionistic treatment of nature and the scattering of gestures across flat surfaces was curiously in keeping with the new work of the Abstract Expressionists and set Burchfield apart from some of his earlier contemporaries, whose work did not undergo any similar shifts at this time. Still, as had been true for most of his career, there remained a push and pull between realism and expressionism and Burchfield sometimes alternated between these seemingly opposite poles, finding truth and satisfaction in each. The expressionistic direction, however, remained dominant in Burchfield’s art from about 1950 until his death in 1967.
Charles Burchfield has been the focus of a number of museum exhibitions over the years, including an exhibition of early watercolors at the Museum of Modern Art in 1930, and retrospectives at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo in 1944, the Whitney Museum of American in 1956, 1980 and 2002, the University of Arizona Art Gallery, Tucson in 1965, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1990, and the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio in 1997. The latter exhibition, titled The Paintings of Charles Burchfield: North by Midwest, traveled to the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. and was accompanied by a monograph by Nannette Maciejunes and Michael Hall. Burchfield’s work is represented in virtually every major collection of American art in this country.