Charles Burchfield

born Ashtabula Harbor, OH 1893-died West Seneca, NY 1967
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Charles E. Burchfield, © Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0001324
Also known as
  • Charles E. Burchfield
  • Charles Ephraim Burchfield
Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio, United States
West Seneca, New York, United States
Active in
  • Salem, Ohio, United States
  • Buffalo, New York, United States
  • Gardenville, New York, United States
  • American

Modernist painter who celebrated nature in his watercolors. During his life, he often drew inspiration from his environs, which included small-town Salem, Ohio, and urban Buffalo, N.Y.

Joan Stahl American Artists in Photographic Portraits from the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection (Washington, D.C. and Mineola, New York: National Museum of American Art and Dover Publications, Inc., 1995)

Artist Biography

After graduation from high school Burchfield won a scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art, where Henry G. Keller urged him to develop the personal style Burchfield later called "romantic fantasy." Most of Burchfield's early watercolors—he seldom painted in oil—are haunting scenes of nature in which graphic symbols become pictorial equivalents for feelings. After serving briefly in the army at the end of World War I, Burchfield found he had lost his romantic view of nature and turned during the twenties to increasingly realistic views of houses, streets, and industrial scenes that led critics to describe him as a midwestern Regionalist. Attempting to regain the intensely personal quality of his early work, in 1943 Burchfield again began painting the forces and mysterious presence of nature. He returned to watercolors done in his youth, reworking and enlarging them by adding sections of paper to the original sheets.

Virginia M. Mecklenburg Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1987)


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Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Sara Roby Foundation Collection
October 20, 2018November 28, 2018
This exhibition presents some of the most treasured paintings and sculpture from SAAM’s permanent collection, including artworks by Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus, Edward Hopper, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, George Tooker, among others.

Related Books

Graphic Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Graphic Masters celebrates the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists’ works on paper. Exceptional watercolors, pastels, and drawings from the 1860s through the 1990s reveal the central importance of works on paper for American artists, both as studies for creations in other media and as finished works of art. Traditionally a more intimate form of expression than painting or sculpture, drawings often reveal greater spontaneity and experimentation. Even as works on paper become larger and more finished, competing in scale with easel paintings, they retain a sense of the artist’s hand, the immediacy of a thought made visible.