Hartley was born in Lewiston, Maine, where his English parents had settled. He was the youngest of nine children. His mother died when he was eight, and his father remarried four years later to Martha Marsden. His birth name was Edmund Hartley; he later assumed Marsden as his first name when he was in his early 20s.
Hartley began his art training at the Cleveland Institute of Art after his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1892. He won a scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art.
In 1898, at age 22, Hartley moved to New York City to study painting at the New York School of Art under William Merritt Chase, and then attended the National Academy of Design. Hartley was a great admirer of Albert Pinkham Ryder and visited his studio in Greenwich Village as often as possible. His friendship with Ryder, in addition to the writings of Walt Whitman and American transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, inspired Hartley to view art as a spiritual quest.
Marsden Hartley by Edward Stieglitz
Portrait of a German Office, 1914
Marsden Hartley, 1943, by George Platt-Lynes
Marsden Hartley, 1911, by Alfred Stieglitz
Cosmos The Mountains
Birds of the Bagaduce, 1939
Finnish Yankee Wrestler, 1938
Hall of the Mountain King
Landscape of New Mexico, 1923
Landscape of Vence, 1925
The Ice Hole, 1908
Hartley moved to an abandoned farm near Lovell, Maine, in 1908. He considered the paintings he produced there his first mature works, and they also impressed New York photographer and art promoter Alfred Stieglitz. Hartley had his first solo exhibition at Stieglitz's 291 in 1909, and exhibited his work there again in 1912. Stieglitz also provided Hartley's introduction to European modernist painters, of whom Cézanne, Picasso, and Matisse would prove the most influential upon him.
Hartley first traveled to Europe in April 1912, and he became acquainted with Gertude Stein's circle of avante-garde writers and artists in Paris. Stein, along with Hart Crane and Sherwood Anderson, encouraged Hartley to write as well as paint.
In 1913, Hartley moved to Berlin, where he continued to paint and befriended the painters Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. He also collected Bavarian folk art. His work during this period was a combination of abstraction and German Expressionism, fueled by his personal brand of mysticism. Many of Hartley's Berlin paintings were further inspired by the German military pageantry then on display, though his view of this subject changed after the outbreak of World War I, once war was no longer "a romantic but a real reality." The earliest of his Berlin paintings were shown in the landmark 1913 Armory Show in New York.
Hartley finally returned to the U.S. in early 1916. He lived in Europe again from 1921 to 1930, when he moved back to the U.S. for good. He painted throughout the country, in Massachusetts, New Mexico, California, and New York. He returned to Maine in 1937, after declaring that he wanted to become "the painter of Maine" and depict American life at a local level. This aligned Hartley with the Regionalism movement, a group of artists active from the early- to-mid 20th century that attempted to represent a distinctly "American art." He continued to paint in Maine, primarily scenes around Lovell and the Corea coast, until his death in Ellsworth in 1943. His ashes were scattered on the Androscoggin River.
In addition to being considered one of the foremost American painters of the first half of the 20th century, Hartley also wrote poems, essays, and stories. His book Twenty-five Poems was published by Robert McAlmon in Paris in 1923.
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 Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia, fishing community of East Point Island. Hartley, then in his late 50s, found there both an innocent, unrestrained love and the sense of family he had been seeking since his unhappy childhood in Maine. The impact of this experience lasted until his death in 1943 and helped widen the scope of his mature works, which included numerous portrayals of the Masons.
He wrote of the Masons, "Five magnificent chapters out of an amazing, human book, these beautiful human beings, loving, tender, strong, courageous, dutiful, kind, so like the salt of the sea, the grit of the earth, the sheer face of the cliff." In Cleophas and His Own, written in Nova Scotia in the fall of 1936 and re-printed in Marsden Hartley and Nova Scotia, Hartley expresses his immense grief at the tragic drowning of the Mason sons. The independent filmmaker Michael Maglaras has created a feature film Cleophas and His Own, released in 2005, which uses a personal testament by Hartley as its screenplay.
A "catalogue raisonné" of Hartley's work is underway by art historian Gail Levin, Distinguished Professor at Baruch College, and The Graduate Center of The City University of New York.
Further Readings :
Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant-Garde (Yale Publications in the History of Art) by Jonathan Weinberg
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (September 10, 1995)
Amazon: Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant-Garde
This provocative book explores the representation of male homosexuality in American art in the first half of the twentieth century. Focusing on the work of Charles Demuth and Marsden Hartley, it uncovers the sexual codes and references in their art and explores how the two men reconciled their production of a self-consciously "American" art with the representation of their own marginalized status as both homosexuals and avant-garde artists.
Marsden Hartley: American Modern by Patricia McDonell
Paperback: 84 pages
Publisher: Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota (February 15, 2007)
Amazon: Marsden Hartley: American Modern
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), one of the most important artists from the American early modern period, was part of the heady group surrounding Alfred Stieglitz and his galleries in the early decades of the twentieth century. While New York and Stieglitz acted as a base of support and friendship for Hartley, he constantly shifted from place to place, living abroad and in varying locales across the country. Marsden Hartley: An American Modern traces the artists’s movements and the evolution in his thinking and art. For the first 40 years of his life, Hartley pursued the ideals and philosophical principles of American transcendentalism. He shifted radically from his approach after the First World War. Instead of embracing subjectivity, he honored rational intellect and objectivity. Toward the end of his life, he returned to a passionate belief in the subjective self. Patricia McDonnell analyzes Hartley’s beliefs and artistic practice in the context of the cultural and political realities that deeply affected the man and his times. This completely redesigned version of the catalogue published by the Weisman Art Museum in 1997 features an expanded section of color plates.
Marsden Hartley: The Biography of an American Artist by Townsend Ludington
Paperback: 327 pages
Publisher: Cornell Univ Pr; First Edition edition (October 1998)
Amazon: Marsden Hartley: The Biography of an American Artist
"A penetrating biography. . . . Ludington offers a psychological portrait of an intense, contradictory, scornful, but gentle man who transcended his nineteenth-century roots in Lewiston, Maine, to view Europe as his home and to make a distinctive contribution to modernism."--Kirkus Reviews
"Drawing on Hartley's letters and other writings as well as on the correspondence and reminiscences of the artist's friends, Ludington traces the restless career of the painter. . . . [Hartley] had troubled friendships with some of the most important artists and writers of his day--Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Fairfield Porter, Eugene O'Neill, Georgia O'Keeffe, and others. His relationship with Alfred Stieglitz, who supported him financially and exhibited his work, . . . runs like a leitmotif through the book, and indicates Hartley's character--demanding, touchy, often ungrateful but also compelling. . . . This frank and unsentimental account of a life of contradictions and paradoxes returns one to the artist's paintings with a fresh eye."--Publishers Weekly
"Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) had a virtually unique role as a modernist painter. He was notable not only for his powerful canvases but for his poetry and essays. Townsend Ludington's astute portrait of the artist focuses upon his cosmopolitan sensibility in a generation melding modern art with an American tradition of mystical idealism. . . . Ludington views Hartley as an essential American artist embarked on a spiritual odyssey."--Robert Taylor, Boston Globe
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