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Sultry Afternoon

Charles Burchfield ( 1944 )

On View

Collection item 0238
  • Location Goh Annex (1612) - Display, Gallery 103
  • Period Twentieth-Century
  • Materials Transparent and opaque watercolor, and ink on illustration board
  • Object Number 0238
  • Dimensions 28 5/16 x 22 5/16 in.; 71.91375 x 56.67375 cm.; Framed: 42 in x 36 in x 2 7/8 in; 106.68 cm x 91.44 cm x 7.3 cm
  • Credit Line Acquired 1945

Sultry Afternoon, painted in Charles Burchfield’s late style, was a conscious reaction to the realist work that brought him fame. After 1943, Burchfield attempted to revive the sense of wonder he had for the world in his childhood and early works. As Burchfield’s art evolved, his adulation for nature and personal experience deepened.

This painting depicts the hot, humid days he spent just south of Hamburg, New York, near New Oregon Road. In his journal entry for August 3, 1944, Burchfield commented on his activities at the site that inspired the picture: “On a ‘bearded’ hillside all afternoon painting. Afterwards I stripped to the waist and lay in the sun for awhile. Then I took my outfit to the car, and taking my lunch basket went back up on the hillside. The slightest movement made me drip with sweat.” The moisture and heat conveyed by the tropical palette and light-saturated sky are palpable. The back lighting makes the atmosphere seem heavy. The leaves of the closest tree are painted in curious radiating patterns that suggest light flickering through the tree top.

While Sultry Afternoon is close in spirit to early works, such as Road and Sky, stylistically it is more ambitious. The composition is asymmetrical and dynamic, dominated by ascending curving lines and shapes, making nature appear more monumental. In Sultry Afternoon, Burchfield vividly captured the essence of a time and place, but more importantly, his emotional response. His desire to understand nature in all of its guises, even those experienced in discomfort, reflects his deeply-rooted spirituality.