SPOTLIGHT: April 18, 2021

Charles Burchfield

April showers bring May flowers, did you also know they bring crows too? The migratory habits of the crow reveal that about 86 percent of North American crows travel a distance of at least 310 miles with most birds returning to the same breeding territory each year. This painting by Charles Burchfield shows a flock of crows adorning the tree top, as they pause amid their journey.

At first glance, April Rain and Crows appears to be a simple composition, but in reality, it is a careful study of calligraphic patterns, rhythm and sound. Burchfield’s study of Chinese scrolls likely inspired the calligraphic marks evident in the delicate foliage and slashes of spring rain. This early work was completed shortly after Burchfield left the Cleveland School of Art, when he was immersed in studying and painting nature. A rhythmic pattern can be seen in the curves and diagonal lines that make up the pattern of the branches. Above the composition’s midpoint, the rib-like projections of the thinner branches suggest the feathers of the crows that crown their tips. The greyish-purple sky creates the illusion of a rainy day and complements the green spring grass and wisps of yellow branches in the background.

Music had a major influence on the Burchfield’s aesthetic as he frequently sketched the abstract symbols he “saw” when listening to the music of composers Richard Wagner (1813-1883), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and Jean Sibelius (1865- 1957). Thought to have synesthesia, a neurological condition that results in a “crossing of the senses,” Burchfield heard music while simultaneously seeing swirls or patterns of color that he integrated into his works, earning him the designation as one of America’s most original watercolorists.

Charles Burchfield
American, 1893-1967
April Rain and Crows
1916, Watercolor and pencil
19.5x 11.375 in.