Lot 18
  • 18

Charles Ephraim Burchfield

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Charles Ephraim Burchfield
  • Insect Chorus in September 
  • signed with monogram CEB and dated 1952 (lower left); also signed and dated again Charles Burchfield/1952 and titled "Insect Chorus in September" (on the reverse)
  • watercolor and pencil on paper mounted on paperboard by the artist
  • 24 3/4 by 33 inches
  • (62.9 by 82.8 cm)


Alfred Corning Clark, New York
Lawrence Shar Fine Art, New York
Private collection, New York
Harriet Griffin, New York
Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner, 1987


New York, Barbara Mathes Gallery, Master Drawings and Watercolors, 1883-1986, October-December 1986

Catalogue Note

Insect Chorus in September is a masterful example of Burchfield’s ability to convey sounds, particularly those of insects, birds, and spring peepers, in the visual sense. His insect motifs are pure aural representation – through the repetition of form and pattern, Burchfield signifies pitch and cadence. Much like the artist John James Audubon, he was a devoted naturalist who constantly studied and catalogued the natural world around him. As in the present work, he made special note of the insects that populated the fields and woods around his home, especially crickets, cicadas, and katydids. Sound and music had a significant impact on his artistic output throughout his career and his personal journals are filled with self-constructed onomatopoeic words used to describe the various songs of birds and insects.

Beginning as early as 1917, Burchfield started to incorporate visual representations of sound into his landscape themes. These rhythmic calligraphic brushstrokes, often combined with envisaged heat waves, frequently captured the monotonous hum of cicadas and other insects: “The repetitive strokes, energizing leaves and grass, call those extenuated meditative observations most of us have made of a single blade of grass or of an individual leaf which quivered imperceptibly, but palpably … Begun, in part, as shorthand notations to save time, they came to dominate many paintings, serving as mood conditioners as well as formal devices to link together sections of a watercolor. A unique achievement in modern American painting, this very personal vocabulary reappeared in Burchfield’s work after 1943 when he returned to the landscape themes of his youth” (Matthew Baigell, Charles Burchfield, New York, 1976, pp. 73-76).

By 1952, Burchfield had already started to reexamine and rework many of the early landscapes that he created during his formative years in Salem, Ohio. In both these early and later works, he consciously applied the nineteenth-century aesthetic theory of synesthesia in an attempt to create a pictorial language capable of capturing multi-sensory experiences: "In addition to the semi-abstract conventions that Burchfield devised to convey specific sounds through visual imagery, much of his early and later work contains other intentional musical elements. Rhythmic pattern, tonality, color harmony, contrast, repetition, counterpoint, and thematic variation–all can be identified in individual paintings and their use traced throughout his work. Burchfield, with extensive self-taught knowledge of music, sought like Kandinsky to adapt its formal devices to painting and to invent a symbolic language that would fuse visual and auditory experience ... The importance of music, both formally and thematically, to his paintings is signaled by the frequency with which the words 'song,' 'chorus,' 'rhythm,' and 'dancing,' as well as 'music,' occur in their titles"  (J. Benjamin Townsend, ed., Charles Burchfield's Journals: The Poetry of Place, Albany, New York, 1993, p. 598).