Edward Hopper wrote in an article about his friend Charles Burchfield that this painter’s work was “most decidedly founded not on art, but on life.” Both artists are held to be pioneers of the so-called American Scene, even though each subscribed to a very different brand of realism. Whereas Hopper’s realism always had a critical and sentimental bias, Burchfield’s art displays two opposite tendencies: a realism that criticises the unstoppable industrialization of the modern age, and a certain romantic spirit that exalts the hidden forces of nature.
July Drought Sun is an example of the personal, fanciful style developed by Burchfield in order to represent nature’s deepest mysteries. He began working on the painting in 1949, while teaching at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, where he met the Finnish editor of a local newspaper who described to him the views of the countryside and nature portrayed by many writers from this Scandinavian country, further heightening Burchfield’s own interest in the seasons and climatic conditions. In this summer landscape, the foreground vegetation in shades of brown is withering and parched, while the lake on the horizon appears to be evaporating in the July heat. The sun itself, painted bright orange, blazes intensely and powerfully, beating down on the dry landscape with its rays. Here the watercolours are applied in short, dynamic strokes that disturb the calm of the scenery and convey a feeling of unrest. Burchfield, a refined watercolourist, often used this technique to give expression to his impressions of nature on large sheets of paper.