When many Mormons think of modern religious painters, they think of illustrators Arnold Friberg and Harry Anderson. Others might name artists Minerva Teichert or Wulf Barsch. Relatively few have heard of Richard Burde, a shy, introverted man who does his painting quietly and without fanfare in his home. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1912, he has over the years produced numerous religious paintings but has exhibited his works in Utah only twice.
The paintings reproduced here and on the cover of this issue are typical of Burde’s shifting style, which variously draws on the sharply contrasted lights and darks of the Dutch Baroque, the moons and skies of American Romantics, and the bold, brightly colored shapes of postimpressionism. Linking all his works, however, is humility and compassion, strikingly mixed with emotional intensity and spiritual courage.
Burde studied four years at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden. After being drafted into the German army, he fought on the Russian front, where he was severely wounded. In 1941 he was converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through the missionary efforts of a neighbor in Dresden. Later, he and his family escaped from East Germany and in 1952 made their way to the United States. Burde brought just a few paintings with him.
In America the artist was isolated from many of those around him by the unfamiliar language and culture, by his shyness, and sometimes by economics. However, he has maintained a regular study of the scriptures and of European and classical thought and cultural arts. The resulting introspection enhances the process of likening the scriptures to himself. This the Good Samaritan takes the traveler to a German inn, Mary and Joseph are a German peasant couple sharing an intimate moment with their new baby, and, in a painting not shown here, Joseph Smith is a German scholar studying the scriptures. We are invited to likewise reflect upon our relationships with the Lord and our fellow humans.[View the PDF to see the artwork accompanying this article.]