Between Darkness and Light
Charles Ephraim Burchfield is almost universally regarded among critics and collectors as one of the most important artists of the early and mid-20th century. In the art world, the name Burchfield is spoken in the same breath with American greats Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Edward Hopper. Along with artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Burchfield helped lay the groundwork for American modernism. In 1930, he was selected as the subject of the first one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1936, Life magazine declared him one of America’s “Ten Greatest Artists.” And at his death in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson eulogized him as an “artist to America.” Slowly, however, Burchfield has slipped from the American consciousness. Working in watercolor, a medium that in the early 20th century was heralded as spontaneous, innovative and egalitarian, Burchfield painted highly personalized landscapes. His work was a graphic representation of his intense emotional complexity and a profound sensitivity to the world around him. He stripped his subjects to their essence, exposing the transcendent qualities of nature, the raw effects of industrialism and the misplaced ideals of small-town America. Over a fifty-year career, Burchfield stood apart from artistic currents and through perseverance and integrity of vision became one of the most remarkable and prolific painters of the 20th century. For the first time, the story of Charles Burchfield will be told to a national audience on PBS, reaffirming his place as an American master.