Monday, March 21, 2016

The Best Rainy Night Painting Ever- Charles Burchfield


Charles Burchfield,  Night of the Equinox, watercolor,  
40 1/8 x 52 1/8", 1917-55, Smithsonian American Art
Museum, Washington, DC.

I was just looking at what has to be the wettest painting ever painted, Charles Burchfield's watercolor above. What caught my eye was the water gushing from the downspout on the side of the house and feeding a small lake where the yard used to be. 




I remember pulling on my rain boots as a six year old and happily splashing my way through just such suddenly appearing streams.  I'll bet Burchfield had just such a reverie as he painted. In the detail just above he paints the puddle as a huge waterway, giving it as much personality as the mysterious shapes in the sky.

Last year when the Burchfield Penney Art Center invited me to be their Artist In Residence for this year they suggested that I might travel out to Burchfield's childhood home in Salem, OH. There Burchfield came of age and there he made many of his early masterpieces. Looking at Night of the Equinox  this afternoon
I realized Burchfield used his Salem home (at the left) and the neighbor's house at the right with the tall chimney for the setting. Just to be sure, I contacted Nancy Weekly, the Burchfield Penney's Curator and she confirmed my suspicion. 

To make enough space in the foreground for his enlarged puddle, Burchfield more than doubled the distance between his house and the building at the right (which was known as the Weaver house, according to Weekly).

Here's a photo I took last summer of the low house that's at the right of the painting showing how narrow the alley between the houses is in reality.



Burchfield was after a different reality- one that celebrated the forceful wind and rain. To be truthful to those feelings he had to rearrange the big forms in his composition to tell that story better.

One other liberty he took was placing a small shed right in the center of his composition. I suspect he wanted a form that the swelling stream could disappear behind. Here's another photo from last summer of the backyard showing how the space is actually far more empty.




Here's the view of the Weaver house from one of Burchfield's second floor bedrooms.




I made a drawing of the view out that window while I was in Salem.



Philip Koch, Salem Rooftops, pastel, 14 x 10 1/2"
 2015

Here's a vine charcoal drawing I made on that visit standing in what would be the far middleground of Burchfield's watercolor looking back toward the Weaver house on the left and Burchfield's house at the right. Currently I'm using this drawing as a basis for a 5 foot wide oil of Burchfield's house and will be showing it soon.


 

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. It's well worth a visit- so much of what Burchfield painted in his early years is right there for one to see. Here's the Burchfield Homestead's website listing their hours and phone- http://www.burchfieldhomestead.com/home.html

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