Still Life, Pomegranates, 1927
b. 1877, Lewiston, Maine
d. 1943, Ellsworth, Maine
Marsden Hartley was a painter, poet, essayist, and pioneer of Modernist painting in America. He was born as Edmund Hartley in Lewiston, Maine, the youngest of nine children. He adopted his stepmother’s surname, Marsden, when he was a young adult. In 1892, he moved to join his family in Ohio and studied at the Cleveland School of Art. Hartley was awarded a five-year stipend to study in New York, where he attended William Merritt Chase’s School of Art from 1899 to 1900 and the National Academy of Design from 1900 to 1904. While in Manhattan, Hartley frequented the studio of Albert Pinkham Ryder, but returned to Maine most summers to paint landscapes.
In 1909, Hartley met Alfred Stieglitz, who gave him his first solo exhibition at the renowned 291 Gallery. A second successful exhibition at 291 in 1912 enabled Hartley to travel to Europe. He first arrived in Paris and was introduced to the avant-garde circle of Gertrude Stein, as well as the work of Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. In the following year, Hartley moved to Berlin where he befriended Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, members of Der Blaue Reiter, and exhibited with them at the Herbstsalon. While in Germany, he produced one of his most famous paintings Portrait of a German Officer (1914), which was inspired by the death of the Prussian lieutenant Karl von Freyburg. Hartley was forced to return to the United States as the First World War escalated in 1915.
After returning to the United States, Hartley traveled extensively and frequently for the next two decades. He predominately painted still lifes and landscapes, inspired by his travels to such places as Bermuda, New Mexico, France, Austria, Italy, Germany, Mexico, and Nova Scotia. During these trips, Hartley explored the spiritual essence of nature in his surrounding landscapes. Hartley was also a prolific author, notably writing the essay collection “Adventures in the Arts: Informal Chapters on Painters, Vaudeville and Poets,” (1921) as well the narrative poem, “Cleophas and His Own: A North Atlantic Tragedy,” (1936). He returned to his home state in 1937, intending to become “the painter of Maine,” and to depict local American life. Before his death in 1943, Hartley painted a powerful series of landscapes depicting Mount Katahdin and a collection of figure paintings inspired by sunbathers, lobsterman, and his time in Nova Scotia.
Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Walter Art Center in Minneapolis; and the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., among others.