Browse Similar Masterworks

Sunburst at Sea, circa 1913-14
Birge Harrison (1854-1929)

View Artist Bio
Pastel on paper
28 x 30 inches
Signature Details: Signed lower left
Status: The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Sunburst at Sea, circa 1913-14


Pastel, 28 x 30 inches

Signed lower left: Birge Harrison

Inscribed on stretcher: Birge Harrison Sunburst at Sea [crossed out]


The painting retains its original Newcomb Macklin frame.



The artist; to [Sale, American Art Galleries, New York, The Work of the Eminent American Artists Alexander Harrison, N.A. and his brother Birge Harrison, N.A., April 19, 1921, no. 36]; Antiques shop, New York; to private collection, New York, about 1965, until the present.



Michael E. Shapiro, "Hamilton College's Alumni Collectors," American Art Review, Vol. XIV (April 2002), pp. 113, 115, no. 2, illus. in color, as Sunrise.



Allied Artists of America, New York, c. 1915.

Louis Katz Art Galleries, New York, 1916, Paintings by Birge Harrison, N.A., no. 13.

National Academy of Design, New York; Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Texas; and Denver Art Museum, 2001-02, The Cos Cob Art Colony: Impressionists on the Connecticut Shore [not in cat.]

Emerson Gallery, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York, 2002, Hamilton Collects American Art, p. 46, illus. in color, as Sunrise.



Lovell Birge Harrison was a classically-trained artist, critic, and instructor who began his art studies at the Philadelphia Sketch Club and at the newly-founded school of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, under the tutelage of Thomas Eakins. As a young man, Harrison and his two brothers, Alexander and Butler, expressed a strong desire to pursue careers as professional artists. Their father, Apollos Harrison, was a man of letters who had been a successful merchant prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and who later in life became an expert in horticulture, working as the Secretary and Treasurer of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.  He clearly was interested in the fine and performing arts, but for monetary and cultural reasons he preferred that his sons find careers away from the struggles of the studio artist.


Nonetheless, Harrison enrolled in Eakins' classes at the Philadelphia Sketch Club and was one of a small handful of first students to enjoy the rigorous training at the Pennsylvania Academy. Through his friendship with the portrait painter and well-known engraver, John Sartain, and because of the growing acceptance of the role of studio artists, Harrison was allowed by his father to continue his studies abroad at the studio of Carolus-Duran, who had also taught John Singer Sargent. In fact, it was Sargent who encouraged Harrison to study under the Frenchman. 


Harrison's time in France was quite productive, and he exhibited a steady growth of skill. He continued his training at the artist's colony at Grez sur-Loing and began to exhibit his works at the Paris Salon exhibitions, soon receiving one of the greatest honors for any student with the purchase by the French Government of his painting titled November, which was shown at the Salon of 1881.


The artist traveled extensively over the next decade, touring the globe with stops in Japan, Australia, and throughout Europe. When he returned to the United States, Harrison, along with his first wife, Eleanor, spent several years in California and also made frequent visits to Charleston, South Carolina, and Quebec, Canada. The exact location and date of Sunburst at Sea are unknown, but this work has much in common with other views of the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina which offered one of Harrison's preferred vistas. Harrison was extremely fond of the city and he visited often in the years after 1908.


In terms of date, it is likely that this painting is one of a series of large-scale exhibition pastels Harrison executed between 1913 and 1915, when he was suffering from a bout of silver poisoning. His ailment rendered him unable to paint in oil, and he used the time to investigate alternate ways of expressing his art. Harrison was a devoted student of various media and their supports, and he outlined his particular interest in pastel in a 1915 article for Art and Progress:


 During the past two years I have produced a series of paintings in pastel which  are as sound and lasting as the best oil paintings while retaining the exquisite bloom and atmospheric quality which is the distinctive beauty of the pastel, a  quality which is due, of course, to its soft-dry, unreflecting surface. ... After much search I discovered a gray paper almost identical to that used by Latour himself, which is still manufactured in France and imported from that country by certain New York color-men.


We know that Sunburst at Sea was exhibited as early as 1915, first at the Allied Artists of America and then in a commercial exhibition at the Louis Katz Galleries in New York. In 1921, Birge and his brother, Alexander, offered an extensive array of their paintings and works on paper at a New York auctioneer. The sale appears to have been moderately successful, but the Harrisons were disappointed in the prices and the turn away from traditional landscape and figure painting to a new way of modern art.


Charles Louis Borgmeyer, a noted critic of the day, described Birge Harrison's work:


In his marines we find no attempt to render the overwhelming power of the sea as we see it in the dynamic canvases of Winslow Homer or Charles H. Woodberry [sic]. On the contrary he is drawn here as elsewhere to the tender and poetic side of nature, rather than the dramatic. He loves her best in her gentler moods, and he chooses, by preference, that time of day which is fullest of poetry of the outdoor world...he cannot be classified and labeled as a landscape painter, a snow painter or a painter of city streets. He is a painter of ‘effects’"[C.L. Borgmeyer, "Birge Harrison - Poet Painter," Fine Arts Journal 29, October 1913, pp. 582-606].


1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
Get Our Email Newsletter
Created by . Easy site updating through Backstage CMS.