Charles Burchfield is one of the most celebrated American watercolorists of the twentieth century, and a true naturalist who painted with a deep understanding and true love of the landscapes of rural Ohio which surrounded him for much of his life. In his works, one can feel that "Burchfield's voyage was not based nearly as much on his mind interacting with itself as on a transcendental faith in the operations of nature. To become one with himself, he did not provoke dialog with his unconscious as much as try to let the spirit and moods of nature pass through him. Instead of existential anguish, which takes place in one's mind, Burchfield flung his body on the ground, literally, the better to feel nature's pulse. It was not set-understanding Burchfield was after, but a sense of participation in and reception to the forces that generate from the earth and heavens." (M. Baigell, Charles Burchfield, New York, 1976, p. 179)
The Pine Tree certainly demonstrates this complete immersion in nature, in fact nature seems to have taken over the picture - flowers, shrubs, and grasses growing recklessly around the bottom of a large pine tree. Flanking the lone tree are two decaying and tired looking houses, equally overrun by the advance of the physical environment. Much of Burchfield's work is dominated by his use of symbols to represent his ideas and reactions to his personal life.
As K. Ames tells us, Burchfield meditated at length about the place of the house in American life, and therefore in his paintings. "It should not be surprising that a painter weaned on picturesque sentimentalism would make houses prominent elements in his work. Growing up in the 1890s and early years of this century, Burchfield could hardly have escaped an awareness of Victorian America's obsession with houses and domestic life. In the Victorian ideology of domesticity, homes, as they were called, were aggressively promoted as the most important institutions within society. Literature on the architecture and furnishing of homes and on the proper conduct of domestic life was ubiquitous and inescapable...In Burchfield's work the Victorian obsession with houses take three distinct but interrelated forms. First, Burchfield sees houses as the locus of spirits or as anthropomorphic structures. Second, he is fascinated by the affective powers of old houses and houses that look old. Third, and perhaps most intriguing, he is drawn less to the facades of houses than to their backs, which he records in numerous images." ("Of Times, Places, and Old Houses," in N. Maciejunes and M. Hall, The Paintings of Charles Burchfield: North by Midwest, New York, 1997, p. 57)
Perhaps more important symbolically for Burchfield is the tree, whether meant to suggest life and regeneration, death and decay, or meant to take on religious significance. "Burchfield seems to have identified particularly closely with trees, and play the role for him that figures do in the work of most other artists. As one looks through Burchfield's work, it becomes apparent that he divided trees into fairly distinct types, each of which seems to have a specific "personality" and emotional significance...there is the tree, often a pine tree, that stands stiff and straight, often off by itself. It seems likely that such trees are a surrogate for Burchfield himself, a physically inhibited man, who stood stiffly erect and felt awkward in social settings." (H. Adams, "The Context of Meaning" in The Paintings of Charles Burchfield: North by Midwest, p.114)
Despite Burchfield's emotional and geographic remove from the avant-garde artists in New York, he "was more successful in remaining in tune with the changing trends of his time than any other American artist of the period. With mysterious, almost inexplicable clairvoyance, Burchfield repeatedly changed his style in a fashion that was in accord with the shifting artistic tendencies of his time." (in "The Context of Meaning" in The Paintings of Charles Burchfield: North by Midwest, p. 123) This ability to stay current and relevant is a testament to Burchfield's emotionally profound yet accessible art.