Marsden Hartley, The Lifeguard, 1940
Marsden Hartley was born Edmund Hartley in a small Maine village in 1877. His mother died when he was young, and his father eventually married a woman named Martha Marsden. When Edmund was in his 20s, off studying art, he changed his first name to Marsden in her honor.
Hartley studied at the Cleveland School of Art, but when he turned 22 he moved to New York to study with William Merritt Chase and then the National Academy of Design. While in New York, he became friends with the painter Albert Pinkham Ryder, whose work influenced Hartley for his entire career.
Marden Hartley, The Dark Mountain, 1909
Albert Pinkham Ryder, Seacoast in the Moonlight, 1890
Alfred Stieglitz, the famous photographer and husband of Georgia O’Keeffe, gave the young artist his first solo show at his 291 Gallery. Through Stieglitz, Hartley quickly gained entry into New York’s art world.
Alfred Steiglitz at his 291 Gallery
Marsden Hartley, Red Tree, 1910
Funded by Stieglitz, Hartley traveled to Europe in 1912, where he was introduced to Gertrude Stein. Through Stein, Hartley met the who’s who of the European art scene during the year that he spent in Paris.
Marsden Hartley, Portrait of Gertrude Stein
Hartley’s friend, the artist Arnold Rönnebeck, introduced him to his handsome cousin, Lieutenant Karl von Freyburg. Hartley and the German lieutenant began a passionate romance; as a result, Hartley left Paris and moved to Berlin to be with von Freyburg.
Hartley and his lover moved on to Munich where in 1913 he encountered Der Blaue Reiter artists including Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and Gabriele Münter. The same year he showed with these artists in the Sturm gallery’s ‘First German Autumn Salon’ in Berlin. Marsden Hartley's painting were also shown and in the ground breaking Armory Show in New York in 1913. Americans were not quite ready for Modern Art, but show went on to make history by exhibiting the masters of early 20th century art, years before they became well know in the United States.Hartley's early German work was influenced by the artists that he met in like Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, as can be seen in his "Painting Number One" from 1913. The German Expressionism movement had a large impact on the style of his paintings.
Marden Hartley, Painting Number One, 1913
Wassily Kandinsky, Small Pleasure, 1913
Hartley’s work began incorporating the Germany military emblems and regalia that he saw daily in the streets of Berlin. On October 7th, 1914, during the first few weeks of WWI, his lover Karl von Freyburg was killed in battle. Hartley, grief stricken over his loss, memorialized his first great love in a painting that would become one of his most famous works: "Portrait of a German Officer."
Marsden Hartley, Portrait of a German Officer, 1914
Hartley never got over loss the death of von Freyburg, and painted several other works inspired by their relationship.
Marsden Hartley, Painting No. 47, 1914-1915
In October of 1915, 45 of his painting were shown at Müchener Graphik-Verlag gallery in Berlin where they received critical acclaim. His luck seemed to be changing, but not for long.
Marsden Hartley, Lighthouse, 1915
It soon became apparent that the United States was about to enter the war, so Hartley quickly moved back to New York. Unfortunately, Hartley's German military-inspired works did not go over well in New York- not surprising, since the U.S was now at war with Germany.
Marsden Hartley, Painting No. 49, 1914-1915
Two Sailors Urinating, Charles Demuth, 1930
Marsden Hartley, Male, 1922
After the war, Hartley returned to Europe for a few years, where he published a book, Twenty-Five-Poems, in 1921. Hartley was an accomplished poet and his writing has attracted more interest over the years.
Marsden Hartley, Male, 1922
Hartley and his Dog in Aix en Provence, France, 1926
Hartley left Europe for good in 1930, moving back to the States until 1932, when a Guggenheim fellowship funded his time painting in Mexico.
Marsden Hartley, Yliaster (Paracelsus), Mexico, 1932
While in Mexico, he befriended a fellow Guggenheim recipient, the poet Hart Crane. Crane’s alcoholism, fueled by the persecution that he felt being gay, eventually led to his tragic suicide off the coast of Florida. Devastated by the news of Crane’s death, Hartley created one last memorial memorial painting, Eight Bells Folly, in 1932. Watch the video below to hear more about Crane's death and the story of this painting.
Like many artists, Hartley supported himself during the Great Depression by working for the Public Works of Art Project, which employed artists to paint murals in public buildings. The program only lasted from December 1933 to June of 1934. By 1935, no longer able to afford to keep his unsold works in storage, Hartley spent his 58th birthday destroying hundreds of his paintings. He had reached a low point in his life; his reputation had plummeted and he no longer had the support of Steiglitz.
Marsden Hartley, Northern Seascape, Off the Banks, 1936-37
Hartley spent 1935 and 1936 living in a small fishing community in Nova Scotia. There he met the Mason family, who became a surrogate family to the artist and a loving escape from the harsh cynicism of the New York art scene.
Marsden Hartley, After the Storm, Vinalhaven, 1938-39
Marsden Hartley, Christ Held by Half Naked Men, 1940
Hartley became extremely private later in life, even friends knew little about what he was up to. Not much is known about his romantic life during his later years, or if he even had one. Since everyone that Hartley loved died tragically, he may have completely retreated from attachments. This portrait of Hartley by George Platt Lynes has an interesting and very sad story to it. Check out the video below.
If you live in Southern California, don't miss this show of Marsden Hartley's paintings from his German period, showing at LACMA.