Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Nighthawks at Twilight, 1917-49; watercolor on joined paper, 33 1/2 x 47 inches; Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan, Gift of the Viola E. Bray Charitable Trust, 1964.3
Exalted Nature: The Real and Fantastic World of Charles Burchfield
Co-organized by the Brandywine River Museum and the Burchfield Penney
On View Friday, December 12, 2014–Sunday, February 22, 2015
The exhibition Exalted Nature: The Real and Fantastic World of Charles Burchfield, which premiered at the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, opens at the Burchfield Penney Art Center on Friday, December 12, 2014. Glowing reviews were published in the media by The Wall Street Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Art & Antiques Magazine, ARTfix Daily, and Courier-Post.
The exhibition investigates Burchfield’s development of a modernist aesthetic, pioneering painting techniques, and invention of “Conventions for Abstract Thoughts” to convey emotions and “audio-cryptograms” to symbolize sounds from the animated world. Nancy Weekly, the world’s leading authority on the American artist Charles Ephraim Burchfield (1893-1967), co-curated the exhibition with the Brandywine’s Associate Curator Audrey Lewis. Weekly is Head of Collections and the Charles Cary Rumsey Curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center and Burchfield Penney Instructor of Museum Studies at SUNY Buffalo State.
The beautifully illustrated, 132-page catalogue contains essays by both scholars. Lewis traces the origins of modernism in Burchfield’s work in comparison with American landscapists. Weekly researched the collegial relationship between Burchfield and Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), whose artistic family history is preserved and exhibited at the Brandywine River Museum of Art. Although Burchfield was twenty-four years older, he and Wyeth interacted professionally on a number of occasions. The exhibition provides an opportunity to assess what commonalities they shared— a sense of place, landscape as metaphor, the effect of father loss, nuances of light, a seasonal palette, and a love for watercolor— and how their work diverged. She reveals Burchfield’s unique visual library of symbols: his “Conventions for Abstract Thoughts” that are coded to convey human emotions and what she calls “audio-cryptograms” to represent music and sounds from the natural world—which has led to research on Burchfield’s special simultaneous perceptions of sight and sound known as synesthesia.
There are 60 works in the exhibition. 2 were lent only to the Brandywine, but 4 are being lent only to The Center. The watercolor medium that Burchfield perfected is a fragile one that must be protected by lower light levels, and as a result, is rarely lent for exhibitions, so Exalted Nature provides a unique opportunity to see Burchfield’s masterworks gathered from across the country joined with seminal works from the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s comprehensive collection and archives.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio
DC Moore Gallery, New York, New York
Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware
Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan
Kennedy Galleries, New York, New York
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York
Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Spiro Family Collection, courtesy of Debra Force Fine Art, New York, New York
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts