Charles Ephraim Burchfield (1893-1967)
Property from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph H. Davenport, Jr.
Charles Ephraim Burchfield (1893-1967)

Whirling Leaves in a Black Hollow

Charles Ephraim Burchfield (1893-1967)
Whirling Leaves in a Black Hollow
signed with initials in monogram and dated 'CEB/1960' (lower left)--dated again, inscribed with title and dated again '1955 [sic]' with butterfly inscription (on the reverse)
watercolor, charcoal and pastel on paper laid down on board
38 x 30 in. (96.5 x 76.2 cm.)
Executed circa 1955-60.
Rehn Galleries, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Albert Segat, New York, by 1970.
Parke-Bernet, New York, 7 April 1971, lot 68, sold by the above.
Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York, acquired from the above.
(Probably) Acquired by the late owners from the above.
J.S. Trovato, Charles Burchfield: Catalogue of Paintings in Public and Private Collections, Utica, New York, 1970, p. 297, no. 1232, illustrated.
J.I.H. Baur, The Inlander: Life and Work of Charles Burchfield, 1893-1971, Newark, Delaware, 1984, pp. 232, 238, fig. 203, illustrated.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 34th Annual Watercolor Exhibition, November 1-December 6, 1936.
New York, Rehn Galleries, Charles Burchfield, January 3-28, 1961.
Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hunter Museum of American Art, The Alice E. and Joseph H. Davenport, Jr. Collection, April 10-June 7, 2015.

Lot Essay

Charles Burchfield’s Whirling Leaves in a Black Hollow is a visually and emotionally stirring depiction of the roar of wind through a forest before a storm. Blasted tree trunks stand sentry around the swirl of a tornado composed of radiating yellow and orange leaves. The leaves and flowers are bright pops of color against the predominantly grey, black and brown composition, bursts of optimism in an otherwise foreboding scene.

In Whirling Leaves in a Black Hollow, one can hear the rustling of the leaves and feel the thickening atmosphere. The darkened sky and wind of the present work precede the full force of a thunderstorm. Reflecting an emphasis on evoking spirituality, during his later years, Burchfield abandoned literal representation of nature. In a letter from February 1960, the artist explained his shift toward more imagined, abstract scenes, writing, "I find myself being drawn almost inexorably into a dream world. It is not that I am trying to escape real life, but that the realm of fantasy offers the true solution of truly evaluating an experience." (as quoted in The Inlander: Life and Work of Charles Burchfield, 1893-1971, Newark, Delaware, 1984, p. 239)

Indeed, John Baur explains of the period in which the present work was painted: “In the three years of 1959-61 painting after painting came from Burchfield's easel, celebrating the drama and mystery of nature in nearly abstract terms...Wind and storm drew him powerfully, as they had through so much of his life. Describing a thunderstorm in his journal, he recalled 'the old agony (the feeling that never could I express the power and beauty of a thunderstorm).' But he tried again, this time using 'almost abstract [means], but still derived from nature.' Whirling Leaves in a Black Hollow probably goes back to a memory of 1950 when he was trying to 'paint the roar of the wind in the woods...As the day wore on my ideas changed and I began to improvise on other themes such as wind blown leaves dancing over the floor of the woods and big rain drops hitting them with a great clatter.'" (The Inlander: Life and Work of Charles Burchfield, 1893-1971, pp. 231-32)

A quintessentially American artist--he left the country only once in his life for a brief trip to Canada in 1941--Burchfield painted what he knew best: the American landscape. It was Burchfield’s muse throughout his career, and his works, like Whirling Leaves in a Black Hollow, celebrate the hauntingly beautiful, energetic natural world.

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