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A painting of lacquered tree bark applied to red painted canvas with white highlights and black burn marks.

The painting is made of lacquered bark applied to canvas which has been painted red. The red paint shows through cracks in the wood. A larger area at the top center is white with black burn marks, the white extends down a small crack. Small round burn marks appear unevenly placed up the left side and across the top, larger burned areas, some highlighted by red appear across the bottom and in the center. An uneven band of red paint extends from the top to the bottom of the right side.

Gallery Text

In Alberto Burri’s expressive mode of abstraction, raw materials are subjected to alchemical transformation. Like other artists associated with arte povera (“poor art”), a movement championed by the critic Germano Celant, Burri experimented with nontraditional and everyday materials, such as burlap sacks, cracked mud, and discarded fragments of wood. In the immediate postwar period, critics were quick to see Burri’s scorched works as representing violence and destruction. During World War II, the artist had served in the Italian army as a doctor, an experience that gave him intimate familiarity with the effects of bodily trauma. To create this piece, he used a blowtorch to char a sheet of lacquered bark glued on top of a canvas. The singed holes, which reveal fiery red and smooth cream paint, evoke open wounds. Burri referred to this technique of burning materials as combustione, a term that captures the aggression and intensity of his work.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Alberto Burri, Italian (Citta di Castello, Umbria 1915 - 1995 Nice, France)
Legno e rosso 3
Work Type
Persistent Link


Level 1, Room 1200, Modern and Contemporary Art, Mid–century Abstraction I
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Physical Descriptions

Painted canvas covered with lacquered bark
158.8 x 87.6 cm (62 1/2 x 34 1/2 in.)
framed: 160 x 89.6 x 3.6 cm (63 x 35 1/4 x 1 7/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: Verso top right: Burri '56 Legno e Rosso 3


Recorded Ownership History
G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1959.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mr. G. David Thompson, in memory of his son, G. David Thompson, Jr., Class of 1958
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Publication History

  • Paintings by Alberto Burri, exh. cat., Carnegie Institute (Pittsburgh, PA, 1957)
  • Alberto Burri: A Retrospective View 1948-1977, exh. cat., Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery (Los Angeles, CA, 1977), p. 30, no. 24, ill. (black and white)
  • Michel Oren, Combustione: Alberto Burri and America, X-TRA, Project X Foundation for Art and Criticism (Los Angeles, CA, 2011), 13, No. 4, pp. 46-52, p. 47, ill.

Exhibition History

  • Paintings by Alberto Burri, Carnegie Institute, 11/19/1957 - 12/29/1957; Arts Club of Chicago, 01/30/1958 - 03/07/1958; Albright Art Gallery, 04/08/1958 - 05/20/1958; San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, 06/17/1958 - 08/03/1958
  • Alberto Burri: Retrospective, Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, 09/25/1977 - 11/27/1977; The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, 01/08/1978 - 03/19/1978; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, 03/30/1978 - 05/21/1978; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 06/15/1978 - 09/03/1978
  • Part Object Part Sculpture, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, 10/28/2005 - 02/26/2006
  • Combustione: Alberto Burri and America, Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, 09/11/2010 - 12/18/2010
  • Re-View: European and American Art Since 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/03/2011 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 1200 Mid-Century Abstraction I (Painterly Abstraction), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

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