Saturday, August 14, 2010

Marsden Hartley

An Immorality
by Ezra Pound (1910)

Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,

Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men's believing.

 Alfred Stieglitz, Portrait of Marsden Hartley, 1913

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) was born in Lewiston, Maine, to working class English immigrant parents. His bleak childhood was lightened by the family’s relocation to Cleveland, Ohio, a move that gave him the opportunity to attend the Cleveland School of Art. In 1899, Hartley moved to Manhattan to further his studies in art. At first, he enrolled in William Merritt Chase’s School of Art. After one year of study with Chase, however, he transferred to the National Academy of Design, where he remained for four years.

 Marsden Hartley, The Ice Hole, 1908

Hartley began painting landscapes inspired by the American Impressionist John Henry Twachtman and the Barbizon painter George Inness. He was invited by the publisher Thomas Mosler to spend the summer of 1907 at Green Acre, a mystic retreat in Eliot, Maine.  Green Acre attracted artists, theologians, yogis, swamis, and Eastern mystics.  It was here that Hartley discovered a deep appreciation for Eastern religion. 

Marsden Hartley, Storm Clouds, Maine, 1906

In 1909, Hartley was introduced to Alfred Stieglitz, a meeting that would change his life forever and place him firmly within the progressive art circles of the time.  Stieglitz immediately arranged a one-man exhibition for Hartley at his famous gallery 291. Beginning in 1912, Stieglitz financed several European excursions for Hartley.  During the first, 1912, sojourn, Hartley visited Gertrude and Leo Steins’ famous Paris salon and became familiar with new works by Matisse, Cézanne, and Picasso. 

Marsden Hartley, Christ Held by Half-Naked Men, 1940

In 1913, Hartley left Paris for Berlin. Hartley became friendly with Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, and was given a solo show at Munich's Galerie Goltz in 1913. He also exhibited at Herwarth Walden's prestigious Herbstsalon the same year.  His works had the distinction of being displayed alongside those by Kandinsky and Henri Rousseau. Hartley returned to America in November 1913. In 1914, he had his third one-man show at Stieglitz’s 291, and in the spring he departed for Germany for his second extended trip. 

 Marsden Hartley, Morgenrot, 1932
"I like the life color of Berlin. It has movement and energy and leans always a little over the edge of the future. It is essentially the center of modern life in Europe. The military adds so much in the way of a sense of perpetual gaiety here in Berlin. It gives the stranger like myself the feeling that some great festival is being celebrated always." (Hartley in a letter to Alfred Stieglitz in 1913)

Marsden Hartley, Portrait of a German Officer, 1914

During his second Berlin period, Hartley worked on a series of German military works - known as the German Officer portraits. Hartley, who was gay, painted Portrait of a German Officer (above), which was an ode to Karl von Freyburg, a Prussian lieutenant of whom he became enamored before von Freyburg's death in one of the first battles of World War I. Finding that the conditions in Germany had grown increasingly intolerable during the war, Hartley left Berlin, the city closest to his heart, in December of 1915. Hartley’s transition back to New York was a difficult one, particularly because anti-German sentiment was at a peak there, and he had a very strong allegiance to all things German.

 Peggy Bacon, Marsden Hartley, Circa 1930

In the winter of 1916-1917, Hartley - who was a restless traveller - sailed to Bermuda where Charles Demuth joined him for several months. It was at this time that Hartley shifted from an interest in avant-garde issues towards working in a more representational mode. Hartley traveled again to Europe in 1921.  He began in Paris before venturing on to his beloved city of Berlin, which he then described as being “under cubist influence.” Hartley, who remained in Berlin for two years, had secured the financial means to travel abroad by using the proceeds of a 1921 auction of his work, organized by Stieglitz. In August 1925, Hartley moved on to the south of France, where he painted for next three or four years. 

  Marsden Hartley, Gardener's Gloves and Shears, c. 1937

Hartley once again set up residence in the United States in 1930.  He showed his work to positive critical reception and enjoyed several sales from exhibitions. A Guggenheim travel grant, which Hartley received in 1931, provided him with one year’s support to work outside of the country; he chose to go to Mexico. During his Mexican interlude, Hartley nurtured his fascination with pre-Columbian culture and painted works inspired by the country’s native past. Hartley moved frequently between 1933 and 1937, from Bavaria to Dogtown and from Bermuda to Nova Scotia. 

 Marsden Hartely, Sustained Comedy, 1939

 In 1940, Hartley executed a series of figure paintings that were based on sunbathers and lobstermen, as well as Maine landscapes. Around this time, he began to devote much of his attention to poems and essays. Cleophas and His Own: A North Atlantic Tragedy is a story based on two periods he spent in 1935 and 1936 with the Mason family in the Nova Scotia fishing community of East Point Island. There is a recent film by Michael Maglaras with the same title. Hartley’s last years were plagued by hearing loss, failing eyesight, and poor health in general.  He also was isolated the last twelve years of his life and died in Ellsworth, Maine, on September 2, 1943. Hartley’s works are represented in nearly all of the important American museums.

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