- GEORGE ELBERT BURR PAINTER
George Elbert Burr was a painter It is American engraver, known mainly for the series of etchings and drypoints dedicated to the Western United States and its wild and unique landscapes. Born in 1859 in Munroe Falls, Ohio, he spent his first ten years in the great Midwestern state before moving to Cameron, Missouri, where his father had opened a general store.
He trained under the guidance of his mother and enrolled in the Chicago Academy of Design in 1878, only to return to his father's house a year later. Continuing to work with his father, he began his artistic career dedicating himself to engravings for theHarper's, it Scribner's Magazine, The The Cosmopolitan and the Frank Leslie's Weekly thanks to which he travels extensively throughout the United States, deepening his knowledge of those landscapes that will become the center of his poetics as an artist. His illustrations have also been published in Volume II of John Muir’s Picturesque California, a circumstance which contributed to his professional growth and which led him to work for several months, between 1888 and 1889, as a correspondent for theObserver.
1892 is a crucial year for the life and works of Burr: hired by the very rich businessman Heber R. Bishop, launches the project for the creation of the illustrated catalog of the philanthropist's collection of over a thousand pieces of jade antiquities, a collection which will then be donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The assignment allows him to achieve a certain economic stability which he exploits by embarking on a long tour of Europe lasting five years, together with his wife Beth. It is a period of feverish activity for the artist who visits Italy, Germany and Great Britain, making an infinity of drawings, watercolors and preparatory sketches which will become the primary source for the series of copper plate engravings of views and European panoramas to which he will dedicate himself once he returns to his homeland and which will be exhibited in multiple exhibitions between the East and West Coasts.
A terrible flu requires him to rest. In search of a healthy climate, he travels to Denver in Colorado where he is captivated by the scenery of the Rocky Mountains. Here comes the series of sixteen engravings - to which sixteen watercolors are combined - "Mountain Moods" dedicated to Estes Park, which has remained famous for the innovative composition of the views. For Burr it was a real business card with which to gain accreditation at prestigious art clubs such as the New York Society of Etchers and the Brooklyn Society of Etchers (later renamed the Society of American Etchers). It is during the summers spent observing the Rocky Mountains, the weather-smoothed profiles and the wild valleys that Burr's poetics are born, that iconography that will make him famous as one of the most important American engravers, between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In the harsh winters of Colorado, the artist's frail health does not find the right climate for healing so he moves between Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico, looking for milder temperatures. But the call of Colorado began to be felt in Burr's heart as he built a home and studio at 1325 Logan Street in Denver, an address that for fifteen years represented the true home of the Ohio artist. The city is alive and Burr grows personally through contacts with artists and personalities such as Elizabeth Spalding, Charles Partridge Adams, Anne Evans It is Henry Read.
In 1924, health conditions again forced Burr and his wife to move yet again and bring the couple to Phoenix, Arizona. The Grand Canyon State and its iconic landscapes are known by the engraver who in 1921 had already dedicated a series, which later became famous, renamed by experts "Desert Set". The scenarios of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts broaden the spectrum of the works of George Elbert Burr, enriching and completing his style. Among these we remember the delicate "The Lana of mistery the desert", a black and white etching that confirms the mastery of the engraver in being able - in addition to fixing panoramas - to tell stories of spaces that disappear as far as the eye can see, so strongly American, simply by inserting the element of a caravan that slowly cross sight.
George Elbert Burr will spend the last fifteen years of his life in Phoenix where he is remembered as an active member of the community, holding the position of president of the Phoenix Fine Arts Association and participating with his works in exhibitions and public events. The artist's catalog is characterized by the variety of techniques used ranging from watercolors to oil paintings, ink drawings and above all engravings that Burr made personally. Upon his death, his wife Beth refused to sell all of her husband's inventory out of well-founded fears that the sellers might raise her husband's prices. A concern that embodied a way of interpreting art and life that Burr summed up by saying: "The world has been so kind to us, I have worked doing what I loved to do, without ever a thought, because it has given us more money than we needed it." He died on November 17, 1939, at the age of eighty, in Phoeinx and rests at the Clinton County Cemetery in Cameron, Missouri. At his side his beloved Beth, his lifelong companion, who died four years later.
Today George Elbert Burr is unanimously regarded as one of the finest engravers of the early twentieth century. His prints are present in a large number of authoritative collections among which we remember him Smithsonian American Art Museum, il British Museum, il French National Print Collection, la Luxembourg Gallery, il Victoria and Albert Museum, il Fogg Museum, la New York Public Library e la Congressional Library in the capital Washington, D.C. The information on his private life is rather incomplete, an objective sought by the artist himself who used to say to those who asked him if he intended to write a biography: "My private life shouldn't matter to the public, it's just curiosity. My works represent my life and that's all that matters." The most complete and extensive collection of Burr's works can be found at A. Reynolds Morse Collection at the Denver Public Library. The selection includes over three hundred works by the engraver, collected by Morse, a Denver industrialist, best known for his collection of works by Salvador Dali Collection merged into Dali Museum in Florida.