“Sunlight – then dark wind . . . sunflowers + blooming petunias; intense white horizon.”
Later in life, Charles Burchfield recalled how he moved from Ohio to Buffalo: “The head of Cleveland School of Design, Henry Turner Bailey . . . said, ‘I wonder if you might not be able to design wallpaper . . . if you will let me, I'll send some of these sketches to what I consider the finest wallpaper firm in the country,’ which was H. M. Birge in Buffalo. He did, and they immediately wrote back and told me to come up for an interview, all expenses paid, and so forth. And I got the job then. The very first design that I made was made from one of the 1917 watercolors adapted over to a scenic wallpaper.”
The wallpaper he designed wasn’t a commercial success, but it gave Burchfield a day job for years while he worked on his painting at night. He was happy with the arrangement–he only quit when he was promoted to the point he had too many responsibilities to keep up as America’s favorite Gothic Romantic Realist. His painting informed his designs, and, at least for a period, his designs informed his painting. The present work may have been begun on the early side of this important divide and returned to after. The lower portion of the picture is straight out of his early process: sunflowers are carefully outlined and then filled in with rich, flat color. The upper portion of the picture hints at the transition: light shines through the clouds, filling them with diffuse sunlight as well. Burchfield often amended on and off for years, sometimes returning to watercolors from decades past to incorporate new visual ideas. It is quite likely that this picture represents the thoughts of the artist on both sides of this critical moment in his career.
In 1921, Burchfield created his sunflower wallpaper. This was influenced by the variety of sunflower images that he created leading up to that point in his life. Sunflowers are of special importance in Burchfield's iconography: they represent the sun itself, a fascination for the spiritually minded Burchfield. According to Nancy Weekly, the cloud formations would suggest dating the watercolor between 1916 and 1921.
The artist; to His estate; to [Kennedy Galleries, New York, by 1979]; to Private collection, California, 1979-2020; to [Menconi + Schoelkopf, New York, 2020 until the present]
Menconi + Schoelkopf, New York, Charles E. Burchfield: Inexhaustible, February 22-April 2, 2021, p. 60, no. 8, illus. pp. 33-35
“Artwork: Sunflowers,” Burchfield Penney Art Center, burchfieldpenney.org/collection/object:v2015-0623-001-sunflowers/
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