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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
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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