Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Bisanz, Rudolf M.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

School of Art


Burchfield; Charles Ephraim; 1893-1967; Painting; Modern--20th century--United States; Painters--United States--Biography


The objective of this thesis is an attempt to enhance the reputation of the American painter Charles Burchfield. The intent is to reclassify Burchfield from "retrograde" status to one which foreshadowed future ideas and style. The methodology is stylistic analysis. The problematic nature of classifying artists whose work falls outside of the Zeitgeist of their own time has often led to their relative obscurity rather than an appreciation of their complexity. Stylistic re-evaluation of Burchfield can redefine his previously narrow classification as a Regionalist by demonstrating that his work and attitude were precursors of later movements, thus possibly establishing for him a greater role in art history. Through a comparison of the Modem and Postmodern movements, I attempt to show that Burchfield, a contemporary of Modernism, anticipated within his work and writing significant aspects of the future Postmodernism. In contrast to a previously perpetuated myth of Burchfield's naivete, current research reveals that both his art education and aesthetic exposure were quite sophisticated. The implication is that his seeming obliviousness to the non-objective and minimalist developments of late Modernism was a deliberate rejection of its reductionism based on aesthetic principle and independence of spirit. Significant changes in Burchfield's style in the aftermath of two world wars suggest a personal/political viewpoint most often associated with Postmodernism. An analysis of Burchfield’s paradoxical relation to the Regionalist movement confirms the appropriateness of the Regional label most often applied to him--but only as it is defined in the Postmodern sense of "critical regionalism." This new definition implies a grounded center from which to spread, rather than a conservative enclosure blocking the entry of external ideas. Burchfield's mature reclamation of his Romantic imagist roots suggests the Postmodern association with past tradition. Rather than the teleological, linear progression of Modernism, Burchfield's work evidences the idiosyncratic yet cyclic character of Postmodernism. The ornamental patterning of Burchfield's work stems from multi-cultural and commercial art sources. This appears to prefigure the Postmodern referencing of "low," or popular culture, as well as its embracing of societal pluralism. Accordingly, rather than being seen as “retrograde,” the eccentric mannerism of Burchfield’s work might better be considered "proto- Postmodem."


Includes bibliographical references (pages [74]-80)


vii, 98 pages




Northern Illinois University

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