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Charles Burchfield

Orion in December
1959
watercolor and pencil
39 7/8 x 32 7/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc.

The night sky depicted in Orion in December is based on his observations of the sky at a particular time, then modified to meet the artist’s compositional and expressive needs. Burchfield transforms the scene into a cosmic vision through the abstraction of form and expressive brushstrokes that invest the landscape with a psychic charge. The black outlines and pointed shapes of the trees make them strain toward the sky, while the auras around the stars suggest supernatural radiance. Short, repeated brushstrokes energize the empty space surrounding the stars. The calligraphic strokes of the ground vegetation evoke the rustling movement and nighttime sounds of nature. Fallen stars on the ground echo the shapes of the surrounding plants, adding a sense of magic and awe to the crystal clarity of a December evening.