Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), December Light, 1930, enlarged and changes made 1951-54; watercolor on paper, 22 1/2 x 31 3/4 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Charles Rand Penney, 1994
In late November and early December of 1930, Charles E. Burchfield wrote the following about the burgeoning ideas for what would become December Light:
November 29, 1930
During a blizzard the night before Thanksgiving a flash of pink lightning and a clap of thunder – the wonder and mystery of nature were reborn –
I have just received the Second Symphony of Sibelius –
Its power and beauty overwhelm me – what a magnificent genius is Sibelius – all the torture of barrenness and indecision that this autumn assailed me are dissolved in this elemental music – pictures and ideas pour in upon me – my joy is almost too great to be borne.
[It is Thanksgiving morning – I am on my morning walk – the storm has cleared for us – the middle of the sky is a vast cavern of blue – to the south east the brilliant sun rides along the subtly shaped tops of a great bank of cold blue gray clouds, almost black – somewhere a snow storm is raging – to the north a low bank of pinkish clouds – but here it is clear and cold and bright –
I see a prehistoric meeting hall – abandoned – with wide crudely fashioned open windows all along the side – over the center of each window hangs the head of some animal – a moose, a bear or walrus, a reindeer, an eagle – old skins are scattered on the rough boards. Thru the windows I see jagged lakes scattered thru a dismal swamp lands – black swans float idly on thru placid surfaces and soot colored trees stand gaunt and cold – the spirit of November broods over the landscape.
[It is the morning after Thanksgiving – I am again walking – I am walking out French Road – to the south over the vast fields a brilliant sun flashes above a pile of remote lands, that with the sun as the apex form a gigantic pyramid – a pyramid of clouds piles up in the vast remote southeast the sun just manages to get up over the top of it to send its heatless rays slantingly across our Northland – the snow covered fields are brilliant, spotted with black trees where trunks are lost in a fog of drifting snow –
I have come home again- !
[When I hear the climax of the Sibelius Symphony there comes to me a vision of a village to the North cowering at the base of a hill – a flash of late afternoon sunlight warms up the hillside a moment –
[Again it typifies to me a whole race of people who have finally reached the Promised Land – God appears in the heavens in a blaze of glory....
Dec. 3 – 1930
[Quite unexpectedly I painted all day on a new work - my Viking Hall, with great joy and exuberance. It went so well that when I went out for my walk in the twilight, I was full of intoxicating happiness."
Charles E. Burchfield, Journals, Vol. 38, November 29 - December 3, 1930, 1-4.
Charles E. Burchfield, Painting Index, Vol. VIII-19, first state illustrated, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Charles E. Burchfield Archives, Gift of Mrs. C. E. Burchfield, 1970
TITLE “DECEMBER LIGHT”
SIZE ORIGINAL – 24 X 32 – ENLARGED (1951) to 24 X 35
SUBJECT IMAGINARY; BASED ON IMPRESSIONS RECEIVED ON
HEARING 2nd MOVEMENT OF SIBELIUS SYMPHONY #2
(IN PROCESS OF RECONSTRUCTION – 1951 to 1954)
RADICAL CHANGE MADE IN OUTSIDE SCENE –
TREES CHANGED TO WHITE BIRCHES -
IN STUDIO FLEISCHMANN - DETROIT
SOLD BY SELF