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Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Wind-Blown Asters, 1951; watercolor on paper, 30 x 40 inches (Frame: 35 x 45 inches); Collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Dr. Edna M. Lindemann, 1968

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Wind-Blown Asters, 1951; watercolor on paper, 30 x 40 inches (Frame: 35 x 45 inches); Collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Dr. Edna M. Lindemann, 1968

Burchfield Botanicals in Artvoice

Friday, August 22, 2014

Charles Burchfield Exhibit Highlights Flowers
by Jack Foran in Artvoice


In Full Bloom
In the matter of career choice—artist or naturalist—Charles Burchfield was seriously torn. “I seem always to be deciding, which shall it be,” he wrote in his journal in 1913, when he was twenty. “Of course, it must be an artist,” he continued, “for I must live, but I am hoping for a day when I can give myself entirely up to nature.”

The current Charles Burchfield exhibit at the Burchfield Penney Art Center is on his multitudinous number and variety of paintings and drawings of flowers, including black-and-white veritable technical scientific drawings, with accompanying spidery notes providing vernacular and Latin species names, plus information on colors and markings, stages of development changes, and where and at what season the species can be found in the environment, sometimes in general terms, sometimes as to specific location; more exuberant conté crayon preliminary sketches to finished artwork, usually without scientific information; some finished watercolors on floral themes, and some floral theme wallpaper Burchfield designed for the Birge Company.

“Give myself up entirely to nature.” The language broaches Transcendentalist. Reminiscent of Thoreau, in particular, an author the artist read avidly. And the artwork--but especially the technical drawings--shows a botanical familiarity akin to the encyclopedic knowledge of plant life and the natural world Thoreau demonstrates in his writings, also with Latin names.

As a bonus, the exhibit includes, on loan from the Science Museum, a dozen or so of the nonpareil flower facsimile models the Marchand brothers, Paul and George, created for museum diorama and such displays in the mid years of the last century. In the introductory area, Marchand models of three varieties of violets accompany drawings of eight varieties, with notes, by Burchfield.

“One of the beautiful combinations is a massing of golden rod & asters, surrounded by the pale pin [for pink?] tan of dead grass,” Burchfield wrote in a late notebook (in 1960, he died in 1967). Another notebook entry from about the same time reads in part: “Started work on a new picture...It is based on the 1951 Wind-blown Asters (Zimmerman Road).” The notebook items are displayed along with three Marchand models, two of asters and one of goldenrod; three Burchfield technical sketches from 1911, of an aster and two varieties of goldenrod; a conté crayon preliminary sketch for the projected new work, of asters; and the cited 1951 watercolor Wind-blown Asters (Zimmerman Road), one of the artist’s signature vitalist nature works, featuring asters--looking like eyes peering back at the observer--amid what could be a stand of goldenrod, against a background swath of pale pink to tan, possibly dead grass. Both the earlier watercolor and the later conté crayon preliminary sketch for the projected work include a prominent Monarch butterfly as sole faunal element amid all the flora.

A section on sunflowers includes two early sunflower technical drawings, one entitled Wild Sunflowers along railroad near sand banks; a Paul Marchand model of a Pale-leaved Sunflower; two 1960 conté crayon sketches of sunflowers; and two wallpaper examples on sunflower themes--one a somber mix of blue and green and brown and yellow, one brighter, in more contrastive darks and lights--that the artist designed for the Birge Company about 1922.

Other sections on the astonishingly complicated columbine, the humble, unassuming trailing arbutus, the chaste, exquisite dogwood.

Curator Tullis Johnson said the exhibit—which opened mid-July and continues through early November—was timed to coincide with the area multiple garden walk activities. Burchfield was both a diligent observer of flowers and avid gardener. A 1911 journal note on his personal gardening and garden reads, “I now have almost every kind of wild-flower planted here, and every spring as they come up one by one, I stand for long periods and gaze down at them with a keen feeling of delight.”