Charles E. Burchfield spent the majority of his 73 years painting in small towns in Western New York and Ohio. Born in Ashtabula, Ohio in 1893, he aligned himself with the Cleveland School led by his teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Henry Keller. Burchfield’s dry-brush watercolors were likened to those produced by Edward Hopper, who was one of Burchfield’s close friends. Burchfield is best known for his disorderly and intense images that frequently include subjects of nature and light.
Burchfield experienced a difficult childhood, tormented by nervous breakdowns and his father’s death. Burchfield moved to Salem, Ohio, where he painted around half of his total lifetime work between the years of 1915 and 1917, the last of which he self-proclaimed as his “golden year.” In his early work, Burchfield sampled styles from childhood nature books and Chinese and Japanese painting. Burchfield was also influenced by Arthur Wesley Dow, an artist and philosopher who taught that nature should be depicted as graphic patterns, and William Blake, the innovative English poet and painter who concerned much of his work with religion and mythology. During this time period, Charles Burchfield completed his most well-known paintings, which include The Insect Chorus (Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute) and Church Bells Ringing, Rainy Winter Night (Cleveland Museum of Art). In 1921, the Ohio native moved with his wife to the Buffalo, New York area and took a position as a designer in a wallpaper company. However, he was unhappy and moved to New York City in 1929, where he began to gain notoriety painting small-town life and American industry. In 1944, Burchfield decided to return to his art from the Salem years and expand upon the watercolors. Burchfield enlarged the paintings by adding paper and proceeded to expand and revise the initial paintings. He continued to paint until his death in 1967.