Charles Burchfield

(1893-1967), the first American painter ever to be given a show at New

York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Considered one of the most original and poetic painters of the Cleveland modernist movement, Burchfield was known for what Plain Dealer art critic Steve Litt has called his “graphically animated and deeply emotional portrayals of landscapes and townscapes ranging in mood from bleak to ecstatic.” Born in Ashtabula, Charles moved to Salem, Ohio, following the death of his father in 1898. After graduating from high school, he attended the Cleveland School (now Cleveland Institute) of Art, where he studied with William Eastman, Frederick Gottwald, Henry Keller and Frank Wilcox. In 1914 Burchfield began attending Kokoon Klub exhibitions, and in spring 1915 he went to Brandywine to meet William Sommer. It was around this time that Burchfield began experimenting with the brilliant colors and simplified forms of the Berlin Heights painters.



Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Euclid Avenue, May 31, 1916; watercolor and graphite on paper, 20 x 14 in.; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Tony Sisti, 1979



“Without having traveled to Europe or having seen the 1913 Armory Show in New York,” notes Litt, “Burchfield channeled the zeitgeist in ways that paralleled developments overseas.” He painted his first mature works in 1915, and graduated from the Cleveland School of Art with a degree in illustration the following spring. That summer the Cleveland School of Art sponsored his first solo exhibition, and in February 1917 mounted his second solo exhibition. That summer, with America’s declaration of war on Germany, he was inducted into the army that summer. After his return in 1919, he exhibited with other Cleveland modernists at the Play House, Laukhuff’s Book store, and other Cleveland venues, and 1921 set off on an extended sketching trip through eastern Ohio with Keller, Wilcox and Paul Travis. The painting that resulted were exhibited at the Cleveland School of Art and in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s May Show. Later that year he took a job in Buffalo as a wallpaper designer, a position he retained until 1929, when he left to become a full-time painter.


Over the next 30 years his work attracted attention at museums and galleries across the country. Solo exhibitions of his paintings were held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (1930), Pittsburgh’ s Carnegie Institute of Art (1935, 1938, 1946) and Buffalo’ s Albright-Knox Art Gallery (1944, 1955, 1963, 1967). In 1953 the Whitney Museum of American Art organized a major exhibition that traveled to the Cleveland Museum of Art. A major exhibition at CMA in 2019 focused on his early years in Cleveland.

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