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Modernist Charles Burchfield Attracts Renewed Interest

The D.C. Moore Gallery, New York, will host its first exhibition of works by American modernist Charles Burchfield (1893-1967). Entitled “Charles Burchfield: Paintings, 1915-64,” the show will run from Nov. 9-Dec. 22. D.C. Moore Gallery, which assumed representation of the Charles E. Burchfield Foundation from the Kennedy Galleries last spring, plans to display about 40 works,

NEW YORK—The D.C. Moore Gallery, New York, will host its first exhibition of works by American modernist Charles Burchfield (1893-1967). Entitled “Charles Burchfield: Paintings, 1915-64,” the show will run from Nov. 9-Dec. 22.

D.C. Moore Gallery, which assumed representation of the Charles E. Burchfield Foundation from the Kennedy Galleries last spring, plans to display about 40 works, including 35 paintings and a number of pencil drawings by the artist. Two-thirds of these works are from the foundation and available for sale; the rest are loaned by private collectors and were brought in to fill gaps in the artist’s career overview.

Prices for the artist’s work have risen considerably in recent years. Martha Fleischman, director of Kennedy Galleries (now a private dealership), told ARTnewsletter that when her gallery first began exhibiting Burchfield’s pictures in the 1970s, “nothing was in the six figures. Maybe, by the early 1980s, some began to hit $100,000 to $150,000.”

Last May, at the Christie’s sale of American paintings, the 1966 watercolor Backyards in Golden Sunlight earned $856,000, flying far above the $511,750 it had fetched at Sotheby’s in 2001. It was the top price ever paid publicly for Burchfield’s work, well-exceeding Christie’s $600,000 high estimate. At Sotheby’s in 2000, his 1965 Sweet Peas in a Summer Rain brought $511,750, surpassing the $350,000 high estimate; and a 1961-66 watercolor, Summer Solstice, made $486,500 (estimate: $400,000/600,000) in 2002 at Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg (now Phillips, de Pury & Company).

However, “private sales have done better,” reports Bridget Moore, president of the D.C. Moore Gallery, with some prices reaching the $900,000 level.

Despite a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1930 as well as interest from museum founder and then director Alfred Barr and several other museums, it took the public a while to “catch up,” notes Fleischman.

The increased interest in Burchfield stems from a number of factors, Moore told ARTnewsletter, including a growing body of scholarship that has stirred renewed curatorial interest; the cost and scarcity of available works by Burchfield’s closest contemporaries (such as Edward Hopper, John Marin and Georgia O’Keeffe); “and the recognition that Burchfield’s work will become scarce too.”

Moore believes “there is a lot of room in his market for prices to go higher.” In the past, she adds, the fact that his legacy consisted mainly of works on paper acted as a brake on prices, but that appears to be easing.

Burchfield’s work is usually divided into three periods—the early images with fantasy elements ($40,000/400,000); a middle period during the 1930s and ’40s ($40,000/500,000), when his images became more realistic and were associated with regionalism; and, finally, a later period ($100,000/900,000) in which his paintings grew considerably in size and, while still realist in style, took on a mystical element.

The highest prices have been for pieces of the later period—in part because they are considerably larger, although “there are different groups of collectors for every one of his periods,” says Moore. The price range for Burchfield drawings is wide, starting around $1,000 (in some cases as low as $500) and reaching $15,000, occasionally rising as high as $35,000.

During the 1940s the artist experimented with oil paint on canvas—something that “didn’t come as naturally to him,” observes Moore. She says that prices for his oil paintings are not easily discerned since “none have been on the market for some time.”

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