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This past week saw the opening of an excellent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art / Breuer annex on 75th and Madison. At a time when the museum had been under severe criticism and even saw the resignation of its director Thomas Campbell, a medieval tapestry curator ill suited for the rigors of New York egomaniac fundraising, this show should provide a respite from the bad press received of late.

Marsden Hartley is described as an American Modernist, a catch all term for a painter who started out as an Impressionist, then a Pointalist, a Cubist, then a German Expressionist. His German phase was superbly ill-timed by the American arrival into World War One on the the side against the Germans, bad luck doesn't begin to describe his career as he was beset by tragedies too numerous to list here.

As a result of his then outside gay lifestyle and constant misfortune he was a talented loner who ultimately found solace and redemption in the wilderness of his home state Maine, where he had been born in 1877, and where he would later die in Ellsworth, Maine on September 2, 1943.

His later work has a brutal almost primitive manner as he dialed back the brushwork to a bare mimimum. Like the cold Maine weather, it is raw, forceful, reduced to its simplest form. A realist, his powerful work gained commercial and critical acceptance in the twilight of his career, with some stating he paved the way for the Abstract Expressionists. What he would have thought of that, we will never know.

He died a mere four years before another student of German Expressionist painters Jackson Pollock, upended the art world with an even more forceful application of paint.

1907 silence of high noonMarsden Hartley, Silence of High Noon, 1907

1908 summerMarsden Hartley, Summer, 1908

1908 hall of the mountain kingMarsden Hartley, Hall of the Mountain King, 1908

1908 carnivaofautumnMarsden Hartley, Carnival of Autumn, 1908

1908 09 songofwinter6Marsden Hartley, Song of Winter 6, 1908-1909

1908 09 the ice hole maineMarsden Hartley, The Ice Hole, Maine, 1908-1909

1909 anevening mountanscapeMarsden Hartley, An Evening Mountainscape, 1909

1909 winter chaos blizzardMarsden Hartley, Winter Chaos Blizzard, 1909

Hartley left the United States for Europe, where he visited France in 1912 before moving on to Berlin. His German paintings are masterpieces, however the era was marked by trajedy when the love of his life, a German soldier was killed in the war.

Hartley returned to the States in 1917 when the market for anything German was at an all time low. He spent the next two decades wandering, first to Croton on Hudson, he then met and followed Mabel Dodge out to Santa Fe, New Mexico, then to Bermuda and to France in the roaring Twenties before returning to Maine in the mid 1930's.

By then his style had matured into this much more austere application of paint and the barest of forms. Somehow his persistance was rewarded at the end of the decade when art dealer Hudson Walker, despite not selling Hartley's work in volume, came into some money and purchased 23 canvases for $5,000 in 1940. Ever used to a pauper lifestyle, Hartley put the money in a National City bank account and never touched it. Other accolades followed such as sales to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1942, the same year the Baltimore Museum rewarded him with a rare museum show. He died one year later after a sketching trip near his adopted home of Corea, Maine.

1937 citypointvinalhavenMarsden Hartley, City Point, Vinalhaven, 1937

1937smeltbrookfallsMarsden Hartley, Smelt Brook Falls, 1937

1938 camdenhillsfrombakersislandpenobscotbaymaineMarsden Hartley, Camden Hills from Bakers Island, Penobscot Bay, Maine, 1938

1938 churchatheadtideMarsden Hartley, Church at Headtide, 1938

1938 ghosts of the forestMarsden Hartley, Ghosts of the Forest, 1938

1938 kennebec river west georgetown maineMarsden Hartley, Kennebec River, West Georgetown, Maine, 1938

1938robinhoodcovergeorgetownmaineMarsden Hartley, Robin Hood Cove, Georgetown, Maine, 1938

1938 1939 logjam backwatersofmillinocketMarsden Hartley, Logjam, Backwaters of Millinocket, 1938-1939

1939 birdsofthebagaduceMarsden Hartley, Birds of the Bagaduce, 1939

1939 younghunterhearingcalltoarmsMarsden Hartley, Young Hunter Hearing Call to Arms, 1939

1939x 40 mountkatahdin nomb oneMarsden Hartley, Mount Katahdin, Number One, 1939-1940

1940a mountkatahdin winterMarsden Hartley, Mount Katahdin, Winter, 1940 

1940 logjampenobscottbayMarsden Hartley, Log Jam, Penobscot Bay, 1940

1940 the waveMarsden Hartley, The Wave, 1940

x1940 1941 the lighthhouseMarsden Hartley, The Lighthouse, 1940

1940 small town maineMarsden Hartley, Small Town, Maine, 1940

x1940 41 Lobster on Black BackgroundMarsden Hartley, Lobster on Black Background, 1940-1941

1940x studyMarsden Hartley, Study for Corea Lobstermen, 1940

1941Lobster fisherman coreaMarsden Hartley, Lobster Fisherman, Corea, 1941. The major sale of his life to the Metropolitan Museum in 1942

1941 43 stormdown pine point way old orchardbeachMarsden Hartley, Storm Down Pine Point Way, Old Orchard Beach, 1941-1943

1942 hartley baptist churchMarsden Hartley, Baptist Church, Corea, 1942. Seventy five years later the building still stands

1942 lobsterfishermanschurchbythebarrensMarsden Hartley, Lobster Fishermans Church by the Barrens, 1942

1942 lobstermen coreaMarsden Hartley, Lobstermen, 1942

1942 mountkatahdin snowstormMarsden Hartley, Mount Katahdin Snowstorm, 1942

Marsden hartley's Maine is on view from march 15, to June 18, 2017

Met Breuer located at:

945 Madison Avenue

New York,

NY 10021  


About the Author

Robert Alexander Boyle

Robert Alexander Boyle

 Alexander Boyle is a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, CT where he majored in History. Prior to graduation he co-authored the seminal book Acid Rain in 1983. Alex has worked for the Metropo...