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Artists Marsden Hartley
Marsden Hartley Photo

Marsden Hartley

American Painter and Writer

Movements and Styles: Dada, Post-Impressionism, Early American Modernism, Realism

Born: January 4, 1877 - Lewiston, Maine

Died: September 2, 1943 - Ellsworth, Maine

Marsden Hartley Timeline

Quotes

"Nativeness is built of such primitive things, and whatever is one's natureness, one holds and never loses no matter how far afield the traveling may be."
Marsden Hartley
"My work embodies little visions of the great intangible... Some will say he's gone mad - others will look and say he's looked in at the lattices of Heaven and come back with the madness of splendor on him."
Marsden Hartley
"I could never be French - I could never become German - I shall always remain American - the essence which is in me is American mysticism just as Davies declared it when he saw those first landscapes."
Marsden Hartley
"I want to be life and not myself... just a wholesome supply of magnanimous life."
Marsden Hartley
"... My return to nature by way of looking at Alps all these months has turned me into something of an infant Alp myself."
Marsden Hartley
"Who would waste time thinking of the Italianism of Leonardo? The creative spirit is at home wherever the spirit finds breath to draw. It is neither national or international."
Marsden Hartley
"The inherent magic in the appearance of the world about me, engrossed and amazed me. No cloud or blossom or bird or human ever escaped me."
Marsden Hartley
"I want my work in both writing and painting to have that special coolness, for I am weary of emotional excitement in art, wary of episode, of legend and of special histories."
Marsden Hartley
"As a painter I have to have a mountain."
Marsden Hartley
"I am not a 'book of the month' artist and do not paint pretty pictures; but when I am no longer here my name will register forever in the history of American art and so that's something too."
Marsden Hartley

"It is never difficult to see images - when the principle image is embedded in the soul."

Marsden Hartley Signature

Synopsis

Marsden Hartley, one of the first American artists to paint in a completely abstract mode, was part of the circle of artists, including Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Charles Demuth, and John Marin, who congregated around and were promoted by photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Hartley incorporated into his own paintings the abstract trends that he witnessed first - hand during his time among avant-garde artists in Europe during the 1910s. While his early abstract style met with resistance back in the States, Hartley, undeterred, continued to paint his more recognizable subject matter with the same vivid colors, sharp contrasts, simplified forms, and ambiguous space that he mastered early in his career. His landscape paintings, imbued with the spirit of 19th - century American Transcendentalism, as well as his later portraits, which convey a love for and the earnestness of his subjects, are a uniquely American version of modernism that continue to resonate among younger contemporary artists today.

Key Ideas

While initially known for his more radical abstractions, Hartley used formal devices, such as strong colors and simplified forms, to convey the weightiness and groundedness of his preferred subjects, whether landscape, portraits, or genre scenes, that created a tension with the two-dimensionality of the picture plane.
Unlike his colleagues, Hartley spent several extended periods of time away from the United States, living in various parts of Europe as well as Mexico. These experiences exposed him to a much wider swath of avant-garde activity than was available in the U.S. as well as extended encounters with unfamiliar landscapes. One of the results of his travel, however, was an isolation from his fellow artists, which Hartley both welcomed and lamented.
Not a traditionally religious man, Hartley was steeped in the spiritual ideas of 19th-century Americans Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman. Additionally, he was drawn to Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism and was familiar with more esoteric traditions such as Theosophy. Hartley's own syncretic spirituality pervades many of his paintings, especially his landscapes.
While he rarely discussed his private relationships in public, many now surmise that Hartley had several homosexual relationships throughout his life. At various points, he commemorated these relationships - more subtly in his early painting and more overtly in his later paintings - making Hartley an important early touchstone for gay identity in the United States.

Biography

Marsden Hartley Photo

Childhood and Education

Edmund Hartley was the youngest of nine children born to English immigrant parents Thomas and Eliza Jane Hartley. The death of his mother when he was eight years old affected him profoundly; many years later, Hartley explained, "I was to know complete isolation from that moment forward." His family was soon after divided, with Hartley forced to live with an older sister in Auburn, Maine. To assuage his loneliness, he found solace in the comforting embrace of nature, something he would cling to throughout his life. Hartley's love of the outdoors also led him to imbibe the writings of American Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in addition to the poetry of Walt Whitman.

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Marsden Hartley Biography Continues

Important Art by Marsden Hartley

The below artworks are the most important by Marsden Hartley - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Winter Chaos, Blizzard (1909)

Winter Chaos, Blizzard (1909)

Artwork description & Analysis: The outline of tall brown tree trunks and evergreen branches are barely visible in the flurry of loose brushstrokes that comprise Hartley's Winter Chaos, Blizzard. The shades of blue, pink, and white dabs of color that fill the rest of the canvas show the winter storm that envelops the tree-lined mountain landscape.

This work provides an important example of the Impressionistic style in which Hartley rendered his early landscape scenes; and yet, as noted by historian Gail R. Scott, the approach is distinctly his own and more direct in both subject matter and color application than the "gentle atmospheric snow scenes" of other contemporaneous American artists painting in the Impressionist style. The painting also exhibits what would be a lifelong theme in his work, drawing inspiration from personal experiences with nature; here the rough, stormy winter he experienced in 1908-09 when he lived alone in North Lovell, Maine.

While Hartley quickly moved on from Impressionism, these works garnered him early attention. They were well received when shown in Boston in 1909 and led to dealers Maurice and Charles Prendergast connecting the artist to William Glackens and his group of like - minded artists in New York City with whom Hartley would begin creating early modernist works.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Dark Mountain No. 1 (1909)

The Dark Mountain No. 1 (1909)

Artwork description & Analysis: A large brown mountain occupies two-thirds of the canvas in the background of Hartley's painting. Set under a gray sky and threatening winter storm clouds, a simple one story house is depicted in the center of the painting in front of the mountain. In the foreground is a rocky landscape with barren trees that curve into the center of the composition.

This work is an important example of one of Hartley's earliest series, the Dark Mountain paintings. This work, which is more somber than anything Hartley had created prior, shows the sway of American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder, whose works he saw in 1909 and who he met later that year. Hartley was immediately drawn to Ryder's ability to capture nature in a dramatic way and in response to seeing Ryder's work, he stated, "...it had a sense of realism besides that bore such a force of nature itself as to leave me breathless."

With its monochromatic colors and loose gestural brushstrokes, which Hartley would embrace throughout his career, the artist used the brooding landscape to explore his own emotions. The mood is evocative of loss, even death, and Stieglitz intimated that Hartley was, in fact, having suicidal thoughts at this time.

Oil on composition board - Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

Musical Theme (Oriental Symphony) (1912 - 13)

Musical Theme (Oriental Symphony) (1912 - 13)

Artwork description & Analysis: Abstract forms in vibrant shades of green, orange, red, and yellow outlined in black lines dominate Hartley's Musical Theme (Oriental Symphony). References to music, such as staffs, clefs, and notes, abound in the painting as does religious imagery, including references to Buddhist and Indian religions as well as mystical symbols such as the eight - pointed star.

Hartley was not a traditionally religious man, but he was steeped in the writings of American Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Hendry David Thoreau. Additionally, in 1907 he spent several months at a utopian religious community, Green Acre, in Eliot, Maine, which engaged in comparative studies of world religions and was home to Theosophists and other mystically inclined visitors. Here, Hartley immersed himself in reading and had numerous conversations with the members of Green Acre. His interest in Eastern religions likely began at this point.

The musical references found in this painting are more directly linked to his exposure to artist Wassily Kandinsky and the works of the German Expressionists of the Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider Group) during his first European trip in 1912. While Hartley employed musical symbols, we also see him making references to music through the rendering of paint on the canvas as well as taking on an improvisational approach to mark making.

One can also see influences of Picasso's Analytic Cubism in the way Hartley structured his composition. In many ways this immersion in modern European painting helped to advance Hartley's career, yet it would also be the thing that slowed his artistic advancement once he returned to America, where the general public and even many critics were less ready to accept the unfamiliar and distinctly European approach to art.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts

More Marsden Hartley Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Marsden Hartley
Interactive chart with Marsden Hartley's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky
Franz MarcFranz Marc
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Albert Pinkham RyderAlbert Pinkham Ryder

Personal Contacts

Mabel Dodge LuhanMabel Dodge Luhan
Paul RosenbergPaul Rosenberg
Alfred StieglitzAlfred Stieglitz
Karl von Freyburg
Hudson Walker

Movements

DadaDada
ExpressionismExpressionism
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
Modernism and Modern ArtModernism and Modern Art
RealismRealism

Influences on Artist
Marsden Hartley
Marsden Hartley
Years Worked: 1906 - 1943
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Arthur B. DaviesArthur B. Davies
Charles DemuthCharles Demuth
John MarinJohn Marin
Arnold Rönnebeck

Personal Contacts

Mabel Dodge LuhanMabel Dodge Luhan
Paul RosenbergPaul Rosenberg
Alfred StieglitzAlfred Stieglitz
William Carlos WilliamsWilliam Carlos Williams
Hudson Walker

Movements

DadaDada
Modernism and Modern ArtModernism and Modern Art
RealismRealism

Useful Resources on Marsden Hartley

Videos

Books

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Marsden Hartley Recomended resource

By Gail R. Scott

Marsden Hartley: The Biography of an American Artist

By Townsend Ludington

written by artist

Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley Recomended resource

By Marsden Hartley and Susan Elizabeth Ryan

The Collected Poems of Marsden Hartley, 1904 - 1943

By Marsden Hartley and Gail R. Scott

More Interesting Books about Marsden Hartley
John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art Part V: Marsden Hartley's Maine Recomended resource

This video presents a lecture by Randall Griffey, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, about the life and work of Marsden Hartley. The symposium took place at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. on October 22, 2016.

The Artist Project: David Salle on Marsden Hartley

Contemporary artist David Salle discusses the work of Marsden Hartley

"Marsden Hartley's Maine" at The Met Breuer

Randall Griffey, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of discusses the work of Marsden Hartley and the exhibition Marsden Hartley's Maine.

Hide/Seek: Marsden Hartley

By The National Portrait Gallery

More Interesting Videos with Marsden Hartley

in pop culture

7 Contemporary Takes on Marsden Hartley Recomended resource

Hyperallergic
February 20, 2015

Cleophas and His Own

This video is the trailer for the 2005 film Cleophas and His Own. A visual recreation of the narrative poem by Marsden Hartley, it is based on his own life experience staying with the Mason family on East Point Island, Nova Scotia in 1935. The film is from 217 Films and directed by Michael Maglaras.

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Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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