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Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Cicada Song, 1951; Watercolor on paper, 24½ x 29½ inches; Private Collection

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Cicada Song, 1951; Watercolor on paper, 24½ x 29½ inches; Private Collection

This painting conveys a feeling of a summer day’s oppressive heat. The hazy sky appears to melt down onto the landscape. The tops of flowers are radiant with an orange aurora.  Two rhythms appear in the painting. The first is expressed in the fields of grain. Wavy lines of rising heat appear in the foreground and extend into the background as a heat waves swell across an endless field. Up in the trees we see the rhythm of the cicada song. In the month or so that cicadas live as an adult they are found high in the trees.  The song of the cicada is a shrill pulse that extends for several minutes before winding down. In this painting, tick marks on the tree tops, and most significantly zigzag strokes in the tallest tree,  appear to lift the top of the tree as if it were propelled up by an explosion of sound. The cicada’s song ends with cooler temperatures. Weather folklore states that the first frost will occur six weeks after the cicada’s first song.