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 Walter Wilcox Burridge  (1857 - 1913)

About: Walter Wilcox Burridge
 

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Lived/Active: Illinois/New Mexico      Known for: panoramic landscape paintings, set design, illustrations

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BIOGRAPHY for Walter Burridge
Facts/Data
Birth
1857 (Brooklyn, New York)
 
Death
1913 (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Lived/Active
Illinois/New Mexico

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panoramic landscape paintings, set design, illustrations

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Artists who painted Hawaii
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Noted both as an early Chicago painter and as a set designer, Walter Burridge was born August 29,1857 in Brooklyn, New York.

He began his pursuit of set design at an early age studying with scenic artist Harly Merry. After working in New York theaters, he moved to Chicago in 1882 and settled in suburban LaGrange.  For many years, he was the scenic artist for the Chicago Grand Opera and the McVickers Theatre.  Set design in Burridge's day meant turning a two-dimensional surface, generally a cloth backdrop, into a three-dimensional image.  Burridge was famous for creating illusions that today would be called special effects, such as projecting images on a gauze screen.  Artist Albert Sterner (1863-1946) worked with Burridge in Chicago, painting theater scenery.

Burridge achieved national exposure during the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago from May to October 1893, with his painted panorama of Kilauea, a Hawaiian volcano, which used electric lights to enhance the image of flowing lava. The following is an arguably overly dramatic description of the display, taken from an Exposition write up:

"Between the Chinese Theater and the Ferris wheel stood the cyclorama of the greatest active volcano in the northern hemisphere. In front of the pavilion was a heroic statue of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, made by Mrs. Copp, the sculptor, and under the canopy a choir of Kanak (sic) musicians sang to the public, evoking much applause. The word is pronounced "Kill-away-ah," or nearly so. The great circular painting was made for a company of which the Hon. Lorin A. Thurston, Hawaiian Minister to the United States, was President. Walter W. Burridge, a painter, of Chicago, visited Hawaii and made a two-years' study of the mountain; thereafter, with a corps of assistants, he painted and built the scene, the entire expense rising to $80,000. The crater is eight hundred feet deep and three miles across. It is a lake of bubbling and thunderous lava set in the side of Mona Loa (sic), a mountain fifteen thousand feet high. The station for the spectator of the picture was a heap of lava which had exuded and solidified in the centre of the crater. A priest climbed the cliffs that rimmed the scene and chanted an invocation to Pele, and his form added to the realism of the effects. The mountain peak and the Pacific Ocean, the baleful fires of the never slumbering volcano, the mists and lava floods, all conspired to make a great picture."

Burridge's volcano painting was also displayed in Boston in 1895, at the 'cyclorama' building there. Cycloramas were a distinctive method of painting 'in the grand manner' that was very popular in the Victorian 19th-century. A particularly famous cyclorama of that time was one of the Battle of Gettysburg. The website of the Boston Cyclorama building describes a cyclorama in the following way: A cyclorama is defined as a pictorial representation of the whole view from one point by an observer who in turning around looks successively to all points of the horizon. The artist supposes himself surrounded by a cylindrical surface in whose center he stands, and he projects the landscape from this position onto the cylinder. The observer stands on a platform, which might represent the flat roof of a house or the top of a hill, for example, and the space between this platform and the picture contains real objects which gradually blend into the picture itself.

Burridge, after studying the Hawaiian site, represented the volcano Kilauea with all its lakes of burning lava, blowholes and fiery chasms. It was a tremendous canvas - 55 feet high and 420 feet long.  The Boston Cyclorama site describes the experience of the viewer: After ascending to the observation platform through a passageway made in imitation of lava tubes, the visitor gazed upward and around him upon seething pools and lakes of fire, jagged crags, toppling masses of rock and fierce flames. The foreground melted imperceptibly into the painting, providing a very realistic scene enhanced by pyrotechnic displays, colored electric lights and other mechanical aids.

The educational value of this exhibit was also appreciated: Professor Shaler of Harvard brought a hundred or more of his geological students to make the expedition to Kilauea, spending an afternoon studying the volcano formations accurately depicted in this cycloramic production.

Also as a set designer, he worked on numerous plays including  Arizona at the Herald Square Theatre in New York City, and The Wizard of Oz for the Chicago Grand Opera.

In his more traditionally sized paintings, Burridge's subjects were often landscapes, such as his work Pastoral Landscape (c. 1894, watercolor on paperboard). Burridge exhibited his painting at the Art Institute of Chicago (1891-1905).

Walter Burridge died June 25,1913, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while on a two-month painting and sketching trip to the Grand Canyon.

Sources:
The website of The Franzosenbusch Prairie House Museum (Westchester, Illinois)
The Boston Cyclorama website
Paul V. Galvin Library webpage for the Chicago Exposition.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following text is re-printed from The Graphic, Jan. 23, 1892.  

Walter Burridge, the well known scenic artist, was born in Brooklyn, August 29, 1857, of English parents.  He received his education in the public schools of his native city, and when still quite young, he began his career as scenic artist in Mrs. F. B. Conway’s Brooklyn Theatre.

In 1873-74, he came to the old Adelphi, here in Chicago.  The following season he returned east to the Chestnut Street Theater under the management of Gemmell, Scott & MacKay, and with them was identified with all the notable productions of that the following seasons, during which time several Shakespearian revivals, celebrated for their scenic splendor were produced.  Among the named were “Twelfth Night”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, “Merchant of Venice” and “As You Like It”.  These together with such sterling productions as “The Two Orphans”, Led Astray”, “Our Boys” and “The World”, gave him the opportunity in which to display the ability that has since placed him among the foremost painters of the country, and won for him and enviable reputation of being the best exterior painter in the profession…  Of his late work may be named the ship scene in H.M.S. Pinafore at the Auditorium and the swinging bridge in “Mad Money” both of which were scenic and mechanical triumphs.

He has but lately returned from the Sandwich Islands where he make the studies of the celebrated Volcano of Kilauea that he will produce in cycloramic form as part of the Hawaiian exhibit, which, with its effects of fire, steam and electricity, is expected to prove one of the most interesting features of the Columbian Exposition.

It should also be noted that Mr. Burridge was an associate of Ernest Albert and Oliver Dennett Grover at the South Side Casino on State Street, just beyond Thirty-First where they have transformed that building into a scenic artist’s workshop.

 Information provided by Jackie Wolf Heinl

This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Walter Wilcox Burridge was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1847.  At the Brooklyn Art Association he exhibited Devil’s Pool on Wissahickon, Pennsylvania and View near Belmont, Pennsylvania. Thereafter he worked first in Glen Ridge, New Jersey then in Chicago.  Burridge joined the Chicago Society of Artists, organized in 1887 by Charles Edward Boutwood and Henry Fenton Spread, who was the group’s first president.  Spread’s studio in the Lakeside Building was the first location of the Chicago Society of Artists.  John F. Stacey was also involved.  Reportedly, Burridge displayed some kind of art work at the World’s Columbian Exposition. 

He exhibited the following works at the Art Institute of Chicago: a watercolor titled Under the Old Lime Kiln Shed (1891); Autumn Morning, Bronx Park, New York; Fall Afternoon, Bronx Park; Morning in a New York Canyon and another watercolor, Spring Light (1900); Morning after the Storm, Winter’s Gray Mantle and Morning in the Yosemite Valley (1901); and finally, Morning Light, Winter and Autumn in 1905. 

In 1908, at the age of sixty-one, Burridge became a member of the Salmagundi Club in New York, the same year in which William Chadwick, Harry L. Hoffman, W. Herbert Dunton, Charles Rosen and several others joined the prestigious organization. Therefore he had a long career and was a respected member of the art community.  Burridge also produced illustrations.

Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.


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