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 Copeland Charles Burg  (1889 - 1961)

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Lived/Active: Illinois/Montana      Known for: marine, still life painting

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Ad Code: 4
Copeland Charles Burg
from Auction House Records.
Rhubarb and Two Oysters
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Some of the facts circulating about Copeland Charles Burg's life can be disputed through census data, newspaper articles, obituaries, and birth/marriage/death records in Minnesota, Montana, Alabama, Ohio, and other places his younger sister lived.  

According to various Weymouth family genealogies, Charles Copeland Burg was born in 1885, and his real father's name was Charles Burg, a postmaster in Livingston Montana: his mother's name was Cynthia Folsom Weymouth and they married in Bismarck, North Dakota in 1880-- this info is also in the b/m/d records of both Montana and North Dakota.  His mother died in 1901 and his father re married an Ida Bell.  This information is also available in Montana records.  There was no father or grandfather hung for anything: Cynthia Folsom Weymouth Kirkland Burg's father, Daniel Folsom Weymouth, was a well known lawyer and then judge in Wisconsin and later Marshall, Minn. who died there in 1893; his obituary is in the Minn. archives.

Information provided by Susan Daniel.

Biography from Richard Norton Gallery:
Charles Copeland Burg was born in Livingston, Montana in 1889.  As a young man, he re-christened himself from Charlie Berg to Copeland Charles Burg and also changed his birth date to 1895.  Burg’s early life was quite difficult. When Copeland was just three years old, his father, a circuit court judge, was lynched as a result of a rancher’s dispute the father was brought out from the east to mediate in frontier Montana.  His high-society mother, Cynthia, who was a member of the Kirkland family (as in the Chicago law firm of Kirkland and Ellis), remarried Charles Burg and young Copeland took on his name.  Unfortunately, Cynthia also died several years later; so Cope (as his friends called him) was orphaned at a very young age.  

He served in WWI and around that time nearly married, but his mother’s relatives did not approve of the match, as they deemed the woman ‘unsuitable’.  Cope remained single for the rest of his life. Cope was a newspaperman by trade and began this profession sometime after WWI, first in Montana and later in New York City.  By the mid-1930s, Cope settled in Chicago and was the “rewrite man” for the Hearst newspaper the Chicago Herald American, covering the homicide and major crimes beat.  Around 1940, he also became the paper’s art critic, which got Cope into trouble with William Randolph Hearst and ultimately launched his career as an artist. 

Cope became very critical of the traditional gallery scene in Chicago and in particular criticized Mrs. Frank Logan.  Mr. and Mrs. Frank Logan were the patrons of the Logan Prize of $500, which was given annually at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Mrs. Logan, however, deemed Modern art “insane” and founded a group to counter this new, ‘radical’ Modern art movement called “Sanity in Art” after Doris Lee’s painting Thanksgiving won the Logan prize in 1935.  In his role as the Chicago Herald American art critic, Cope publicly criticized Mrs. Logan and the stodgy Chicago art scene which supported her views, which prompted William Randolph Hearst to tell Burg to ‘stick to his specialty:  rape and murder’.  Cope took this as a challenge and decided he could be a successful artist.  So, without any formal training, Cope began painting. 

He gained national acclaim and exhibited widely, winning numerous prizes for his works.  His exhibition records include the Art Institute of Chicago, The Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC, The Pennsylvania Academy, Philadelphia, PA, The Whitney Museum of Art, New York, NY, among others.  At the Art Institute of Chicago alone, he exhibited 36 times between 1936 and 1951.  In the early 1950s, Cope, in fact, gave up the newspaper business to paint full-time.  He was also known for crafting his own folk-art type frames to go with his paintings.  His style was vibrant and colorful with a naive sensibility; the walls of his house were painted black to highlight his brightly colored paintings.  He was known as a bit of an eccentric; when a patron bought a painting, he would go to the person’s house to not only personally hang the painting, but to tell the patron exactly where the painting should be placed.  Common themes in Burg paintings include, city scenes, Mexican scenes, woodland scenes, images of patchwork quilts and still life’s of flowers, fruit and seafood.  Cope had a friend who owned a fish store and when the weather was inclement, he enjoyed painting images of the fish and crustaceans. 

Copeland Burg died in Chicago in 1961.  Today Cope’s work is in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Union League Club of Chicago, The Pennsylvania Academy and the Smithsonian Museum of Art, Washington, DC. 

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