Marsden Hartley

Born: Lewiston, Maine

 “It is never difficult to see images – when the principle of the image is embedded in the soul.”
―Marsden Hartley

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Painter, poet, and pioneer American modernist, Marsden Hartley was born in Lewiston, Maine, in 1887. Displaying an early talent in draftsmanship, at the age of fifteen Hartley won a scholarship to study at the Cleveland School of Art. In 1898 he moved to New York City and attended the art school of painter William Merritt Chase before studying at the National Academy of Design. Returning to Maine, he painted landscapes in postimpressionist and modernist styles that reflected his artistic training as well as his recent exposure to groundbreaking artists and ideas. His first solo exhibition was held in 1909 at Alfred Stieglitz’ influential gallery 291.

With financial support from Stieglitz, Hartley was able to make two trips to Europe between 1912 and 1915. He went to Paris, where he experienced postimpressionism, fauvism, and cubism first-hand. Unlike most of his fellow Americans in Paris, Hartley sought the company of German artists working there. Not only did they share his affinity for expressing emotion in their work, but they were intrigued with the theories of mysticism. These concerns ran counter to cubism’s highly intellectualized approach, but for Hartley German expressionism proved to be a complementary influence. During a second visit to Germany in 1914-1915, the artist forged a personal style in which he combined the tightly structured arrangement of flat planes–a concept borrowed from synthetic cubism–with the dramatic color and loose brushwork of expressionism.

Returning to the United States in 1915, Hartley traveled across the country painting mostly abstract landscapes. In 1921 he returned to Europe where he remained for about ten years, restlessly moving from France to Italy and then Germany. Hartley continued to experiment with European styles, often using recollections of the American landscape as his subject matter. After coming back to Maine in the mid-1930s, Hartley reverted to a more straightforward interpretation of nature. His bold and expressive paintings of New England’s mountains and coastlines began to win critical acclaim. Not until after his death did the artist gain widespread critical success.