Marsden Hartley, ‘Portrait’, ca. 1914, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Before World War I, Marsden Hartley travelled to Europe to study the Western tradition firsthand. The painter initially settled in Paris, where he met Gertrude Stein and studied her collection. Hartley came to believe that the art scene in the French capital was too competitive and cerebral. Yet, despite the artist’s misgivings, this Parisian sojourn proved foundational. He attended Stein’s Saturday salons; he changed his palette to the brighter, bolder version favored by the Fauvists and Synchromists; and he explored the anti-illusionistic space of the Cubists. Hartley took these findings with him to Berlin. In the German capital he became infatuated with a Prussian lieutenant, Karl von Freyburg. Devastated by the early death of this young soldier, Hartley channeled his grief into a suite of images that incorporated military references and numeric symbols.

Image rights: The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

"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