We would like to thank Nancy Weekly, Burchfield Scholar at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, for her assistance with cataloguing this lot.
Described by the artist himself as a “rambunctious” work, Mist Phantoms at Dawn pulsates with the psychedelic energy that radiates throughout Charles Burchfield’s later paintings. (C.E. Burchfield to Dr. & Mrs. Theodore W. Braasch, December 12, 1960, Burchfield Penney Art Center, The Charles E. Burchfield Archives) The present work was likely based on a memory from July 24, 1915 of the blazing sunlight bursting over the hills of the artist’s hometown of Salem, Ohio. Burchfield’s journal entry from that date records: "Near covered bridge—Fog just commences to rise and presents a glorious sight. Proceeding along the moonlit road, I made plans for an all—night walk which must end in viewing the sunrise from a high hill—then I would go right to sleep & leave the impression forever in my mind—” (C.E. Burchfield, Journals, vol. 25, July 24, 1915, pp. 68-71, Burchfield Penney Art Center, The Charles E. Burchfield Archives)
Referring back to early sketches, ideas and memories was not an unusual practice for the artist, although his primary concern during these later years was to express his emotional response to the natural world by means of a more spontaneous painting method. His work evolved into a more abstracted style, often punctuated with symbolic representations, dramatizing his subjects with increasingly mysterious imagery veering on the supernatural. As its title suggests, Mist Phantoms at Dawn seems to give life to something as ordinary as morning fog, soon to be evaporated by the powerful rising sun, through Burchfield’s application of bold, expressive strokes of yellow.
Burchfield’s remarkable ability to transform familiar subjects—in this case, a sunrise over a wheat field—into a world of fantasy reflects the deep psychological exploration and unparalleled creativity found throughout the artist’s oeuvre. In February 1960, Burchfield wrote to friend and collector Theodore Braash, “I find myself being drawn almost inexorably into a dream world. It is not that I am trying to escape real life, but the realm of fantasy offers the true solution of truly evaluating an experience.” (as quoted in J.I.H. Baur, The Inlander, Cranbury, New Jersey, p. 239)