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Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Untitled [Sunburst], July 30, 1916; watercolor and graphite on joined paper mounted on board, 13 x 32 1/2 inches sight; The Parisi Family Collection

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Untitled [Sunburst], July 30, 1916; watercolor and graphite on joined paper mounted on board, 13 x 32 1/2 inches sight; The Parisi Family Collection

This unusual panoramic composition relates to Burchfield’s interest in Chinese scroll painting and his experimental “all-day sketches” that chronicle changing weather patterns over a period of hours.  The idea had been sparked in 1915, when he became fascinated with the idea of a single work of art that could portray events over the passage of time. His sketches, and this painting, adopted a scroll format: a long, narrow band to be viewed from left to right. For this early example of an experimental process he mastered years later, he carefully joined sheets of paper to extend the size of his composition.

To read this painting, imagine subtle changes that speed up in time-lapse film. Gradually intensified golden sunlight dominates the sky, softening minutes later to a pale gray haze. House rooflines and treetops hug the horizon line to emphasize the colorful sky. A cropped telegraph pole marks the fulcrum point of transitioning sunrays. The sunset had elicited “a tremendous awesome feeling” that Burchfield felt compelled to put to paper. —Nancy Weekly