Two Drawing Masters: Edward Hopper and Charles Burchfield

Charles Burchfield, Tree in Landscape, 19 1/4 x 14", conte, undated 
Burchfield Penney Art Center, gift of the Burchfield Foundation

So often when we think of famous artists we remember them for their paintings, as well we should. But the hands that held their brushes were guided by someone with an incredibly astute eye. So often we see evidence of how well they saw in their drawings.

Two years ago I was able to see the major show of Edward Hopper's drawings that Carter Foster of the Whitney Museum in New York put together. It was a profound reminder that Hopper drew beautifully. This summer as the Artist-In-Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY  I've been examining  the drawings of Hopper's contemporary, Charles Burchfield, at close hand in that museum's Archives. 

Charles Burchfield, Landscape with Distance Houses, conte, 8 x 10 1/2" 1915 
Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY, gift of the Burchfield Foundation

I don't think the drawings of either of these two artists are well known, so I wanted to do a little mini-exhibition of my own pairing Burchfield's and Hopper's drawings of trees together.

Charles Burchfield, Country Street in the Hills, conte, 14 3/4 x 22",
no date,  Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY, gift of the 
Burchfield Foundation

  Edward Hopper, untitled study of foliage, fabricated chalk, 10 1/2 x 16"
 no date, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

They share a delicious fluidity of movement. Both artists were highly selective, making drawings that would single out some key feature to highlight instead of wandering aimlessly. They knew what they were after and got their idea across in a boldly direct way.

  Edward Hopper, untitled study of foliage, fabricated chalk, 16  x 10 1/2"
no date, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Hopper's work in drawing tended to be darker in its shadows. He also was more committed to expressing clear sculptural volumes, while Burchfield sometimes leaned more toward covering his page with decorative two-dimensional rhythms  

Edward Hopper untitled study of foliage, fabricated chalk, 16 x 10 1/2", no date
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Above all, Hopper's allegiance was to cover all his forms in an unbroken stream of intense light. You always knw where the light is coming from in a Hopper drawing. With Burchfield that's only the case some of the time. Very often light and shadow take a back seat to his restlessly imaginative forms. The Burchfield drawing at the top of this post gives star billing to some amazingly fanciful lines that wiggle and dance across his page.

To their credit both the Whitney Museum and the Burchfield Penney Art Center have posted a lot of their drawing holdings on line. Here's a link to the Whitney Museum's Hoppers, all 3154 of them (!) and here is a link to Burchfield Penney's online gallery of 1410 Burchfield drawings. I give both sites four stars.


  1. Apologies for the late comment. I'm just now catching up on blogs, other than my own.
    I do appreciated your providing the links to Hopper's and Burchfield's sketches and drawings. I've always believed that the sketch is the real art, the artist's immediate response to his or her environment, whereas the painting and the drawing are often overworked ideas. Museum curators don't give enough credit to the artist's sketches.
    Enjoy reading your insight into the art of Hopper and Burchfield.

    Ernest Somers


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