In 1917 Burchfield began to expand upon the imagery that he had been favoring, turning his attention to the buildings around him. Whether he painted storefronts, houses, or utilitarian structures, he attempted to suggest something about the people who used them. The buildings were often brought to life by exaggerating key features.
Barn was inspired by a building Burchfield saw one day while traveling along Painter Road in Salem, just west of Bentley's Woods, where he found motifs for many paintings. One of his first works to prominently feature a barn, a characteristic subject in his middle period, the picture is silent and still. Although the time of year was not recorded, on the basis of the clear light and golden furrows of the plowed field to the left, the scene appears to depict a warm sunny day in late spring or early summer. Within the barn, a piece of farm machinery, a flat light shape, stands out in the darkness. Perhaps the plow used to work the nearby fields, it is a ghostly presence that haunts the barn's interior.
Like Road and Sky, Barn is characteristic of Burchfield's 1917 style. It relies on a graphite underdrawing and builds the composition with supple washes of color. Selected details—the interior of the barn, some wild grass near the building, and the area under the eaves—are executed in ink to accentuate their contrast with the other forms. Unlike Road and Sky, however, there is a greater emphasis on local color and no enhancement with gouache.
This painting is remarkably restrained in its respect for the actual appearance of the building. Rather than transforming the barn's facade into an animated face made up of windows and doorways, Burchfield relied more on composition and fine detail to convey the character of the place. Because the composition is nearly symmetrical with its main motif close to the center, the painting appears very still. Details of the building enliven the composition. The barn appears rickety but alive. Its doors hang crookedly and light passes through the planks of its back wall. In addition, the roof curls near the sides, probably the result of its exposure to the elements. In contrast, the landscape details, glowing with light and color, convey renewal. The sky, painted in pale, gently arching streaks on a very wet surface, suggests rising humid air and a gradual clearing of the weather.