Marsden Hartley

Marsden Hartley

Fellow: Awarded 1931
Field of Study: Fine Arts

Competition: US & Canada

Marsden Hartley, renowned American painter, was born in Lewistown, Maine, in 1877.  Mr. Hartley’s family relocated to Cleveland while he was young, and he received a scholarship to attend the Cleveland School of Art.  In 1901, he moved to New York to continue his studies, first at the William Merritt Chase school and then at the National Academy of Design.  He began making frequent trips to paint landscapes in Maine, instilled with a keen interest in the spiritual and the mystical in nature that would impact his artistic career for the rest of his life.   In 1909, leading American avant-garde photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz held a solo exhibition of Mr. Hartley’s Maine landscapes at his famous gallery 291, beginning Mr. Hartley’s involvement as a core member of a group of American artists represented by Mr. Stieglitz.  

Beginning in 1912, Mr. Hartley traveled to Europe frequently, developing a Fauvist aesthetic.  After becoming familiar with the work of Picasso and Matisse and meeting artists Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, his work assumed a Cubist and German expressionist influence.  Some of his most notable works, created at the beginning of WWI, include abstract paintings of German military regalia.  Disillusioned after losing a close friend and possible lover in the war in Germany, Mr. Hartley left Berlin in 1915 and spent the next few years moving about the United States.  He traveled from California and New Mexico to Maine and New York, returning to a more representational mode of painting.  He journeyed back to Berlin in 1921 and traveled through Germany, France, and Italy before again returning to the United States in 1930. 

Despite another solo exhibition at Alfred Stieglitz’s An American Place in 1930 and the general support and friendship of the artists of the Stieglitz circle, Mr. Hartley felt like a foreigner in his home country.  He cited these feelings in his 1931 Fellowship application, writing that while he had been acclaimed as presenting new and important aesthetic developments by critics, he had yet to achieve a public acceptance that would allow him to sustain working in the United States.   He traveled to Mexico during his Fellowship term, immersing himself in pre-Columbian culture and painting works evoking the history and mysticism of the country.  With these works the transcendental spirit he had previously injected into his paintings reached an important turning point; the American landscapes that he painted during the rest of his career were infused with a sense of the spiritual and mystical he cultivated in his youth and further explored in Mexico.  Following his Fellowship term, Mr. Hartley’s work was featured in the first Whitney Biennial (1932) at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.  He held another one-man exhibition at Stieglitz’s gallery in 1936, and held his final solo exhibition there a year later.  He painted the people in Nova Scotia, still lifes, Maine mountain ranges, and other landscapes throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s while residing in Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, and Maine.  Towards the end of his life he fell ill; he died in 1943 in Ellsworth, Maine, at sixty-six years old.

Mr. Hartley is considered one of the earliest American abstractionist painters, at a time when abstraction was still just beginning to achieve institutional acclaim in the United States.  His shifts between abstraction and realism throughout his career established his reputation as a particularly bold, daring painter and a preeminent American modernist.  He was also an accomplished writer and poet, and published several volumes during his lifetime, including essays on art in Adventures in the Arts in 1921, and poetry in Twenty-five Poems (1923), Androscoggin (1940), and Sea Burial (1941).  His work is held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., among many others.  

For more information on Marsden Hartley:

Marsden Hartley at Hollis Taggert Galleries

Mardsen Hartely Timeline at

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