Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Past Noon, July 7, 1916; watercolor on paper, 14 x 19 7/8 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Tony Sisti, 1979
In Past Noon, painted very shortly after Burchfield completed his studies at the Cleveland School of Art, the artist captures a sprawling vista over a field to houses and a school, nestled into the treescape as if they had grown there along with the foliage. In this painting, Burchfield’s design sensibilities can be seen at work again. The sky, a solid block of pale orange, is background to stylized, graphic trees and triangular rooftops tinged by the light of the day. The scene seems to calmly reverberate, emphatically outlined in accenting colors. Squiggled lines in patterns alternate, dark-on-light then light-on-dark, guiding us through the field into town.
John Straus, a Harvard undergraduate who worked with Charles E. Burchfield in creating a catalogue of his paintings in 1942, used the artist’s words in describing Young Gardens in July: “Hot red and yellow flower beds—N. E. of Three Trees looking S. W. towards 4th St. School—trees and houses blackened by heat haze.” In 1911, Burchfield graduated from Salem High School as class valedictorian. The school’s bell tower acts as a focal point on the horizon.—Nancy Weekly