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Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Roadside Stream, April 1, 1939; watercolor on paper, 25 x 18 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Sylvia Rosen, 2003

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Roadside Stream, April 1, 1939; watercolor on paper, 25 x 18 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Sylvia Rosen, 2003

On the back of the painting, Burchfield noted this was “Clinton St. just west of Gardenville, N.Y.,” not far from his neighborhood.  One of only twenty paintings he produced in 1939, Roadside Stream represents the pleasure Burchfield took in depicting a little slice of life, finding aesthetic interest in ordinary subjects that most people would overlook. The manmade channel between farmland and a country road collects excess spring rain before crops are planted. He described the location and his mindset about this Saturday outing just eight days before his birthday:

            A mild breezy morning, with wispy clouds, and a sprinkle of rain.  A song-sparrow sings from somewhere.
            Out Clinton road almost to French to make a sketch.  Painting of the stream that runs along the road here for a short distance, and then crosses under thru a cement culvert to the flats southward.
            Truly a “red-letter” day, my first painting outdoors on anything new since the middle of last November.  I painted eagerly and without great effort ― A strong rain ― tangy wind out of the south ― I felt in fine spirits.

Using one-point perspective, Burchfield draws your eye down the stream. His geometry is echoed in a line of telephone poles and rows of protective road posts and roadside trees.  Muted colors suggest the time of year when the spring sun and rains are just beginning to stir new growth.—NW