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Educational Insights

Speaking of Pictures

Orion in December by Charles Burchfield

To a trained eye, almost every artwork contains clues that reveal a story. An artist may also convey subtle meaning through symbols or composition. Roll over various parts of this artwork to reveal the hidden meaning behind Orion in December.

Painting by Charles Burchfield

Charles Burchfield, Orion in December, 1959, watercolor and pencil on paper, sheet: 39 7/8 x 32 7/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 1969.47.53

American artist Charles Burchfield once said, "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."

Burchfield developed his own set of symbols to represent the beauty and force of nature. Working with watercolor on paper, he described scenes around his home in Buffalo, New York, using marks and patterns corresponding to sights and sounds of the seasons. One of Burchfield's most striking compositions, Orion in December presents a magnificent night scene that conjures excitement and awe. Roll over the image to get the inside scoop.

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