This panel painting postdates Hartley’s first European sojourn, after his return to the United States because of the outbreak of World War I. The title alludes to the repetitive constructions of Gertrude Stein’s experimental texts, particularly her abstract word portraits. Other references include the red, white, and blue of both the American flag and the French Tricolor; a tipped-up tabletop à la Cézanne; candles signifying sacred space; and a tea cup symbolizing hospitality and connectedness. The word “MOI” hovers at bottom, placing the artist—and, by extension, the viewer—just outside the picture plane. This separation resonates with the painting’s function as a souvenir, invoking the cherished memory of a mentor, backer, and friend distanced by conflict, water, and time.
"This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today"
Collection of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, bequest of Hudson D. Walker from the Ione and Hudson D. Walker Collection
About Marsden Hartley
A seminal modernist and member of Alfred Stieglitz’s groudbreaking circle, Marsden Hartley painted easel-sized landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and abstract compositions based on pre-World War I German military paraphernalia and medals. He was deeply attached to nature, and his solidly painted forms evoke a primordial geologic power and poetic sense of isolation that transcends observed reality. Exaggerated form, strong outline and flattened space are among Hartley’s signature strategies. During his peripatetic life he painted many of the places he visited, including Maine, Paris, Germany, Mexico, New York, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Cape Cod, Gloucester, Nova Scotia, Bermuda, and the south of France. Although working primarily in oil, Hartley also produced a number of pastels over the course of his career and experimented with painting directly on glass.
American, 1877-1943, Lewiston, ME, United States, based in Ellsworth, ME, United States