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Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Gnarled Tree, 1917; watercolor, gouache and graphite on paper, 20 x 14 inches, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Sylvia L. Rosen, 2016

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Gnarled Tree, 1917; watercolor, gouache and graphite on paper, 20 x 14 inches, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Sylvia L. Rosen, 2016

Charles E. Burchfield’s watercolor painting Gnarled Tree exemplifies his imaginative, youthful painting. In 1965, reflecting back on that time, Burchfield wrote: “I have always believed 1917 to be the ‘golden year’ of my career. Forgotten were the frustrations and the longing for more freedom. The big city was not for me. I was back home in the town and countryside where I had grown up, which were now transformed by the magic of an awakened art outlook. Memories of my boyhood crowded in upon me to make that time also a dream world of the imagination.”

Burchfield frequently painted the life cycle of trees as a reflection on the passage of time and human aging. He revisited particular trees, both in person and by reviewing sketches he accumulated in his studio. Gnarled Tree represents a life-long subject: The Crooked Beech. The mature tree’s dynamic, human-like form reflects the way that Burchfield identified with, and animated, nature. Its crouching trunk, mottled gray bark, and writhing, twisted branches conjure up images of an elder naturalist overseeing the landscape. The color palette and linear patterns also suggest the influence of Japanese prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige that Burchfield admired from his education at the Cleveland School of Art from 1912 to 1916. —NW