AN EXPLORATION OF THE ART OF CHARLES BURCHFIELD ( 1893-1967) AND EDWARD HOPPER ( 1882- 1967) TWO UNUSUAL SOCIAL REALIST PAINTERS WHO CONSIDERED ASPECTS OF LONELINESS, ISOLATION AND PSYCHOLOGICAL INTERPRETATIONS. BOTH OF THEM PRESENTED A COMPLETLY DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON REALISM THAN EITHER THE’THE ASHCAN SCHOOL’ OR SOCIAL REALISTS SCHOOL OF SHAHN, BISHOP AND MARSH: PART 1.

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In this posting I am going to consider the art of Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper unusual artists who approached Realism from an Interesting angle. Clement Greenberg the Modernist critic had this to say about Hopper.

”  Hopper is simply a bad painter, but if he were a better one he would probably not be such a great artist”. [1].

This of course is absolute arrogance from Greenberg and his definition of Modernist art. Hopper was a one of the greatest painters in the 20th Century and I reject Greenberg’s  contempt for Hopper.

American Art begins by discussing one of Burchfield’s paintings the Lighted Window of 1917.

” Charles Burchfield made his name as a water colourist painting landscapes in which the grandeur of nature dominated his early works produced. Shortly after he completed his studies in Cleveland are often dark and pessimistic presenting the landscape as threatening and unforgiving”. [2].

”  Burchfield painted this image on 31st December 1917 while war raged in Europe( Russia was in the throes of a Revolutionary struggle which would produce the First Workers state)”. [3].

Matthew Baigell in his Concise History of American Painting considers Hopper and Burchfield as important artists of their time.

” It is significant that during the 1920’s art critics considered Hopper and Burchfield important artists , praising them for capturing the true American spirit and the true quality of American Life in their works”.[4].

” Both artists described contemporary ennui , Hopper through his figural studies and Burchfield through his many paintings of decrepit post Civil war buildings”. [5].

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Baigell shows that some of Burchfield’s early works were completed while he lived in Ohio.

” His early works painted when he still lived in his native Ohio. He was influenced by the writings of the Naturist John Burrows”. [6].

” Burchfield became so attuned to nature’s moods that he tried to visualise insect and leaf noises through short calligraphic strokes and long airy arabesques”. [7].

In 1943 Baigell describes how Burchfield changed his style once again and began using dream sequences as a motif for his paintings.

” In 1943 because of the exigencies of world war 2 Burchfield abruptly altered his style and retreated into the private world of his dreams once again. For the next 20 years he created an unprecedented sequence of nature paintings”.[8].

” Together with artists as diverse as Morris Graves , Mark Tobey and Mark Rothko Burchfield  may be considered one if the century’s leading mystical painters”.[9].

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As you can see from the images Hopper painted a number of nudes but the Model used was his Wife Josephine .I have also included a parody of one of Hopper’s pictures, considering Burchfield you can see how his landscapes look dark , threatening and sombre.

Morgan in her Oxford Dictionary of American art and artists also considers the attributes of Burchfield.

” Working primarily in water colour he (Burchfield) created expressionist landscapes and small Town scenes informed by a strongly Romantic temperament”. [10].

” In many of his most effective works powerful other wordly forces seem to animate both the natural landscape and its man-made additions”.[11].

Morgan shows how his buildings took on power of their own.

” As he drew on childhood memories , buildings became anthropomorphic monsters , trees loomed with menace and marvellously designed insects threatened “.[12].

” For his characteristic flat patterns stylised natural forms and rhythmic movement he drew on precedents in post-impressionism and Art Nouveau”. [13].

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With Edward Hopper you are never quite sure of what the isolated individuals are doing and how hey blend in with the Architecture. In Part 2 I will expand more on how Hopper used Architecture and landscape to show certain signs to his pictures. Burchfield likewise uses the landscape as a threatening device.

” Although the 1920’s and 1930’s paintings and drawings usually project a subjective bias – a feeling of menace or mystery for example these evocations of heartland towns and cities nevertheless represent his most straightforward work”. [14].

“Turning to themes from nature he (Burchfield) achieved powerful transcendental expression in much larger formats than he had used a quarter of a century earlier”. [15].

American Art now turns its attention to the work of Edward Hopper. starting with the Lighthouse 2 Lights of 1929.

” Lighthouse with 2 lights is painted from a low viewpoint thus giving a sense of grandeur to what appears otherwise to be a rather squat structure. More importantly he chose a very particular time of day -early morning when the low sunlight casts a long shadow across the landscape”. [16].

Referring to Chop Suey American Art makes this very useful comment.

” Edward Hopper more than any other artist has captured the sense of Loneliness and isolation that can only be experienced in the midst of a crows in Modernity”. [17].

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I have included some images of Modern 20th century artists like Richard Tuschmann and Eric Fischl to show how their nudes compare with Hopper’s.

American Art continues its exploration of Hopper’s work.

” His (Hopper’s) paintings carefully constructed and composed to give the impression of a Momentary glance  – a voyeuristic gaze into the private space and emotions of a anonymous  stranger constitute a unique record of the changing sociology of Modern America”. [18].

” In Summer in the City 1932 – One of Edward Hopper’s greatest strengths was his capacity to articulate a sense of loneliness and isolation even in scenes representing urban life. summer in the city for example presents 2 figures a Woman seated on the edge of a bed next to a naked man lying down”. [19].

This completes my first part into the art of Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper. In Part 2 I will continue the exploration and showing their relevance to todays figurative art as represented by Richard Tuschmann , Eric Fischl and Jared French.

FOOTNOTES

  1. EDWARD HOPPER TASCHEN BOOKS . PG. FLAP
  2. AMERICAN ART FLAME PUBLISHING PG. 308
  3. DITTO.PG.308
  4. A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE .MATTHEW BAIGELL. PG.257
  5. DITTO.PG.257
  6. DITTO.PG.258
  7. DITTO.PG.258
  8. DITTO.PG.259
  9. DITTO.PG.260
  10. THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN ART AND ARTISTS ANN LEE MORGAN .PG. 67
  11. DITTO.PG.67
  12. DITTO.PG.67
  13. DITTO.PG.67
  14. DITTO.PG.67
  15. DITTO.PG.67
  16. AMERICAN ART FLAME PUBLISHING PG. 188
  17. DITTO.PG.252
  18. DITTO.PG.252
  19. DITTO.PG.320.

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