• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 12165

    American Art

    22 November 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 80

    Charles Ephraim Burchfield (1893-1967)

    Butterfly Festival

    Price Realised  


    Charles Ephraim Burchfield (1893-1967)
    Butterfly Festival
    signed with initials in monogram and dated 'CEB/1949-56' (lower right)--signed and dated again and inscribed with title (on a piece of the original backing)
    watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper laid down on board
    37 x 25 ¾ in. (94 x 65.4 cm.)
    Executed in 1949-56.

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    In Butterfly Festival, Charles Ephraim Burchfield captures the motion, the energy and the rustling hums and vibrations of the environment in a brightly animated palette. Burchfield’s bold, glowing yellows reverberate outward and behind the butterflies, each caught in a moment of active flight. Circular formations in the foliage underneath appear to radiate, providing light from below. The 1950s marked a period of transition for Burchfield, as his works grew increasingly expressionist in appearance. Burchfield infused such fantastical compositions with undeniable dynamic movement. Reflecting on the artist’s production at this period, Burchfield expert Matthew Baigell writes, “He could keep butterflies in constant motion, as if they were intoxicated, he once said, ‘by the sheer ecstasy of existence.’” (Charles Burchfield, New York, 1976, p. 170) The objects and figures found in Burchfield’s scenes appear layered, often indistinguishable as separate elements. The butterflies and their fluttering wings blend with the flora and fauna below, an amalgamation of moving parts. Baigell continues, “One sees trees, insects, and birds; feels the wind; and hears the forest sounds. Each of these elements is isolated, experienced for a few moments, and then mixed with the other elements. The time sequences for each are then stretched out and simultaneously intensified and presented as if they all occurred as Burchfield was able to respond to them at a single instant" (Charles Burchfield, p. 175)


    Frank K.M. Rehn Galleries, New York.
    Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1963.


    J.S. Trovato, Charles Burchfield: Catalogue of Paintings in Public and Private Collections, Utica, New York, 1970, p. 264, no. 1140.


    Clinton, New York, Hamilton College, Edward W. Root Art Center, Paintings by Charles E. Burchfield, May 13-June 10, 1962, no. 34.