Charles E. Burchfield in his own words Share Tweet

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), The Promise of Spring, 1956; watercolor and charcoal on paper laid down on board, 40 x 27 inches; Image from the Burchfield Penney Archives

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), The Promise of Spring, 1956; watercolor and charcoal on paper laid down on board, 40 x 27 inches; Image from the Burchfield Penney Archives

Charles E. Burchfield, Journals, February 11, 1915

Monday, February 11, 2019


I think I see nature with a more complicated eye than earlier. Where once a fleet of clouds blown by a wind across the ragged sky was enough for me; now I look at it, troubled how best to put it down “on canvas”. When this - the grammar of expression - has become as much a part of me as seeing, then can I return to my simpler sight.

This is a Spring morning.  Spring is merely a state of the mind. The year goes around devoid of seasons for some, while others must consult the almanac.  Rain is in the air. The snow is slowly settling into blue ice. The sky is a queer mixture - here dappled, the long stretches of misty expanses, a delightful pattern of yellow & blue. It is not a dark morning; if we do not look eastward, the whole eastern sky seems lit up by the sun.  Out of the southwest comes the wind in puffs and lulls; the trees wave back and forth violently against the sky and are next motionless and instantly the wind is heard roaring far to one side.  Such a wind can only belong to Spring. There is a sense of blowing far far away as it rushes into the sunlit east and the desire is to go with it. The air is full of sounds - trains seem to roar on all sides.  A train whistle startles & stirs one as does a bird’s song.

The distant trees are full of blue and violet, against which the waving closer trees form a golden blur. When but a small boy Spring was the only season I observed in the spirit of a poet. From that period, I remember a song (My sweet Italian Daughter - Ludi­crous!) that I whistled much as I rambled in search of the first hepaticas & spring beauties, and I have now but to whistle the tune to put myself into Spring.]

Talk with Eastman. He criticized my impersonal attitude towards people and my undemonstrative nature. It is not new to me. I have been aware of both long and have always dismissed them as unimportant. My aim has been and is yet, merely to become an instrument which shall record the beauty of nature, as a violin the soul of a player. My association with nature - the necessity for solitude - has brought about these characteristics. Yet does it not seem absurd that as I tune myself with nature, I become a discord or silent string, with humanity. Would they have it, that I, being a human, must become in tune with my kind & be indifferent to nature? Never! As for demonstration a finer soul needs not a demonstrative expression.  I love my friend dearly but never tell him. Why tell him? Does he not already know it?

Towards noon the sun came out for a moment as if blown forth by the wind and then lost. How the earth brightened color in that brief instant!

After lunch for walk. As leaving building a pigeon shot in a great loop, thru (sic) the air, tobogganing on the air current; what a day for flying! How good the wind must feel to the sockets under the wings! The sidewalks and streets are full of water lying on top the slate blue ice. A crow cawed - the music in his call!

On my return I was wild with the beauty of the day and deprecated to my class-mates the fact of being indoors on such a day “What? Go out doors on such an ugly day - sloppy streets and nasty wind.” I was so full of the days wonder that I could hardly comprehend and was vexed.

 At midafternoon sketching in park. The wind is stronger - at Grunplatz the woods is glassy with shallow pools of water, which the wind ripples finely, causing it to appear as pebbly clouds or, as A - said; like the back of a shell - I saw a crow flapping against the windy sky – I imagine in that upper air he senses strange odors of Spring which we cannot reach.

Buttonwoods have become white and appear in the woods here and there like vivid streaks of lightning.

Charles E. Burchfield, Feb. 11, 1915