One of the most innovative American landscape artists of the 20th century, Charles Burchfield (1893- 1967) developed a unique stylized form that displayed a powerful bond with nature and the land. Burchfield took day-long solitary rambles throughout the woods, ravines, swamps, and fields, inspiring his unique landscape paintings. In the 1940s, his works became increasingly bold and expressive, reflecting his intense spiritual kinship with nature. He filled his artwork with aspects from the environment that enthralled him, noting in his journal, “An artist must paint not what he sees in nature, but what is there. To do so, he must invent symbols, which, if properly used, make his work seem even more real than what is in front of him.”
Gateway to September, from the Hunter’s collection, is one of Burchfield’s masterworks. It embodies the culmination of the artist’s aspiration to completely embrace two seasons within one painting. August dominates the forefront of the painting, and a calmer glimpse at the quiet landscape of September is visible through a glowing portal. Burchfield ﬁlled the painting with insects, cardinal flowers, asters, and thistles—some of his favorite flowers—all seeming to vibrate with energy. In his journals, Burchfield invented a language for insect and bird songs. In an August journal entry he wrote, “the countless songs of short-horned grasshoppers, whose T-T-T-Z-z-z-z-z- seemed the embodiment in sound of the whole season, its heat, light and odors.”
In Two Ravines, another work from the Hunter’s collection, winter has barely begun to loosen its grip on the land. The icy ravine is shaded by tall dark pines, while the area just beyond is more spring-like with its pale green new growth. While Burchfield did create some paintings of spring that dwell on the beauty of wildflowers in a sunlit field, most deal with “the whole deep sullen mystery of Spring.” Burchfield explained that, “The sight of running water amid sodden ice and snow always conveys to the mind a strong feeling of spring.”
Click here for an art activity inspired by Charles Burchfield’s artwork.