Hartley, Marsden

views updated May 29 2018

Marsden Hartley


Born Edmund Hartley, January 4, 1877, in Lewiston, ME; died September 2, 1943, of a heart ailment in Ellsworth, ME; son of Thomas (a cotton spinner and theater bill-poster) and Eliza Jane (Horbury) Hartley. Education: Attended Cleveland Institute of Art, 1892; attended William Merritt Chase School, New York, NY, 1898-99, and National Academy of Design, 1900; studied privately with John Semon. Hobbies and other interests: Traveling.


Painter and poet.


Adventures in the Arts; Informal Chapters on Painters, Vaudeville, and Poets, Boni & Liveright (New York, NY), 1921, reprinted, Hacker Art Books (New York, NY), 1972.

Twenty-five Poems, Contact (Paris, France), 1923.

Androscoggin, Falmouth Publishing House (Portland, ME), 1940.

Sea Burial, Leon Tebbetts Editions (Portland, ME), 1941.

Selected Poems, Viking (New York, NY), 1945.

Eight Poems and One Essay, Bates College (Lewiston, ME), 1976.

On Art, edited and introduced by Gail R. Scott, Horizon Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Heart's Gate: Letters between Marsden Hartley and Horace Traubel, 1906-1915, edited by William Innes Homer, Jargon Society (Highlands, NC), 1982.

The Collected Poems of Marsden Hartley, edited by Gail R. Scott, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1987.

Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley, edited and with an introduction by Susan Elizabeth Ryan, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.

My Dear Stieglitz: Letters of Marsden Hartley and Alfred Stieglitz, 1912-1915, edited by James Timothy Voorhies, University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC), 2002.

Contributor of poems to literary magazines, including Poetry, Little Review, Others, Contact, and Dial.


Marsden Hartley was a prolific painter whose most acclaimed works depict the coast of Maine and the rugged fishermen who lived and worked there during

Hartley's lifetime. Widely acknowledged as being among the finest of American artists, he also won esteem for his poetry, and moved in a circle of influential twentieth-century artists and writers, including William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein.

A Lonely Childhood

Hartley's parents were born in Staleybridge, Lancashire, England, but had immigrated to Maine in 1857. His father found work only sporadically, and his mother also worked to try to support the family. She died when Hartley was eight years old, an event that devastated the young boy; as an adult, death would often be the subject of many of his most striking works. Four years after his mother's death, Hartley's father married Martha Marsden, another immigrant from Staleybridge. While Hartley had been christened Edmund Hartley, he adopted his stepmother's maiden name as his own. As a teen living a somewhat secluded rural life, he found great solace in the flowers, mountains, and seascapes of Maine, and at the age of thirteen he made a series of drawings for a local naturalist. By the age of fourteen, Hartley had left school and begun working in a shoe factory. Meanwhile, his father moved to Cleveland, leaving his son behind in the care of an older sister.

In 1892, the fifteen-year-old Hartley went west to be reunited with his family. Once in Cleveland, he began work in the office of a marble quarry. Continuing his education, as well as his art, in 1898, he won a scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art, where he studied under Nina Waldeck and Cullen Yates. He later went on to the New York School of Art, the National Academy of Design, and the Art Students League. During this period his teachers included William Merritt Chase, Frank Vincent DuMond, George Maynard, and Edgar M. Ward, and he also became acquainted with many in the social circle surrounding poet Walt Whitman; Hartley's earliest extant painting is of Whitman's house in Camden, New Jersey. One of the most pivotal events of his school years occurred when a teacher gave Hartley a collection of essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was so captivated by Emerson's writing that he carried the volume with him almost constantly, and read it daily, for the next five years. During this period, he alternated busy winters in New York with solitary summers at remote locations in his home state of Maine.

As a young man Hartley was troubled by many insecurities, and in 1905, he slid into a deep depression. During this time he painted a series of canvases depicting suicidal themes. This period in his work then gave way to one in which he did small, impressionistic mountain landscapes. Frequent

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stylistic changes such as these would mark Hartley's entire career. In 1909 he had his first major art exhibition at Gallery 291, a New York gallery owned by noted photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Included in the show were Hartley's brooding Maine seascapes. Approval from Stieglitz gained the young artist entry into the artistic elite of the day, which included such influential figures as Alfred Mauer, Max Weber, and Arthur Dove. From such companions he was exposed to European trends in modern art. In 1912 he had a second exhibition at Gallery 291, and in that year he also traveled to Paris, where he met Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and other emigré writers at Stein's salon. When Stein visited Hartley's studio to look at his paintings, she declared that she would hang his work among her Picasso and Matisse paintings.

Hartley soon moved on from Paris to Berlin, and inspired by the powerful images in Germany's military and industrial cultures, he began including them in his art. A series of works with war motifs followed, including one of his most famous paintings, Portrait of a German Officer. This was a memorial to a German soldier named Karl von Freyburg, who was a friend and possibly a romantic interest of Hartley's. However, not surprisingly, in the wake of World War I, Hartley's German-influenced work was not well received in New York. Although he continued to paint, he also traveled abroad throughout the 1920s and much of the 1930s, and it was during this time that he began to reveal his literary talents.

From Art to Poetry

The book Adventures in the Arts features Hartley's essays on a wide range of topics. Published in 1921, it contains the well-traveled artist's thoughts on such diverse topics as the declining popularity of acrobats, Walt Whitman and Paul Cezanne, and modern art in America. In 1923 Hartley released Twenty-five Poems. This chapbook features a poetic style that, in the words of Joel Lewis in the American Book Review, showcase Hartley's "absorption of the new, Cubist-inspired poetics of Williams, Mina Loy, and Walter Arensberg." Hartley continued to publish the occasional poem in journals, but he did not release another collection until 1940. That year, Androscoggin was published to favorable reviews.

By this time in his life, the road-weary Hartley was again creating art that celebrated his native land of Maine. In the aesthetic spirit of the Objectivists, Hartley's poetry also gave voice to the natural world. In the poem "Return of the Native," for example, Hartley embraces the rugged landscape of

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Maine. Sea Burial, another chapbook featuring work drawn from the author's home region, was published in 1941. Hartley died two years later of heart failure, and his ashes were scattered into the Androscoggin River. He told his own story posthumously in Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley. According to Bob Roehr, writing in the Lambda Book Report, "Somehow a Past is most successful when Hartley writes of the profession of art, not his own work on which he is near completely silent, but of the works of artists who have affected him, Cezanne and Piero della Francesca in particular. His account of time in Mexico on a fellowship (1932) is also masterful, perhaps because it was closest to the time of his writing the first draft of this work." Roehr found Hartley's memoir too reserved, but stated that, despite this flaw, "The poet in Hartley could be a very skilled writer, and there are passages of the autobiography that are a joy to read for their sheer use of language."

Though he was recognized as an artistic force during his lifetime, appreciation for Hartley's cultural contributions increased to new levels in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1982, Gail R. Scott produced On Art, a book that collects Hartley's writings and provides glimpses into his personal feelings on art and the social scenes of his time. In 1987, Scott edited The Collected Poems of Marsden Hartley. A contributor to Christian Science Monitor declared that there "is a melody in Hartley's poems … a solitary tune mingling with the strains created by American poets as they celebrate the vast silences and solitude of their native land."

If you enjoy the works of Marsden Hartley

If you enjoy the works of Marsden Hartley, you may also want to check out the following:

The paintings of Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917), and Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899), who were major influences on Hartley.

Assessing Hartley's literary significance in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Robert K. Martin mused that the poet "never lost his Thoreau-like ability to capture the precise details of a scene." Martin further observed that "true to his transcendentalist heritage, he was also always tempted to 'read' the scene and find its meaning." While reflecting that "Hartley the poet is now almost completely forgotten," Martin praised Hartley's poetic contributions, particularly his "use of the sea and its rhythms," which "provided him with a means for the recognition of death and human tragedy. The strength that he derived from his immersion in life is reflected in the hard lines and bold forms of these poems that seem to echo the sharp objectivity of his painting. Not, surely, as important a poet as a painter, he remains a voice in modern American poetry that is worth rediscovering."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 54: American Poets, 1880-1945, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Gay and Lesbian Literature, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Haskell, Barbara, Marsden Hartley, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY), 1980.

Kornhauser, Elizabeth, Marsden Hartley: American Modernist, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2003.

Ludington, Townsend, editor, Marsden Hartley: The Biography of An American Artist, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.

Ludington, Townsend, Seeking the Spiritual: The Paintings of Marsden Hartley, Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), 1998.

MacCausland, Elizabeth, Marsden Hartley, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1952.

Robertson, Bruce, Marsden Hartley, Abrams (New York, NY), 1995.

Ryan, Susan Elizabeth, editor, Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.

Turner, Elizabeth Hutton, In the American Grain: Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Alfred Stieglitz : The Stieglitz Circle at the Phillips Collection, Counterpoint, 1995.

Weinberg, Jonathan Edman, Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avante-Garde, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1993.


Advocate, April 1, 2003, David Ehrenstein, "Confessions of a Modernist Mind," p. 66.

American Book Review, September-October, 1987, p. 7.

Art in America, March, 1983, p. 17; November, 2003, Robert Berlind, "Hartley's Indicative Objects," p. 148.

Chicago Tribune, June 26, 2003, Michael Kilian, "Phillips Features Controversial Modernist Marsden Hartley."

Christian Science Monitor, January 18, 1941, p. 11; July 3, 1987, p. B3.

Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, July-August, 2003, Ken Gonzales-Day, "An American Back from Paris," p. 37.

Insight on the News, July 22, 2003, Stephen Goode, "Hartley's Talent," p. 36.

Lambda Book Report, March, 1997, Ulysses D'Aquila, review of Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley, p. 20; October, 1998, Bob Roehr, review of Somehow a Past, p. 23.

Library Journal, January, 2003, Eric Linderman, review of My Dear Stieglitz: Letters of Marsden Hartley and Alfred Stieglitz, 1912-1915, p. 101.

Magazine of Art, November, 1948, Donald Gallup, "Weaving of a Pattern: Marsden Hartley and Gertrude Stein," pp. 256-261.

New Criterion, March, 2003, James Panero, "Marsden Hartley and American Modernism," p. 49.

New England Quarterly, December, 1958, Robert Burlingame, "Marsden Hartley's Androscoggin: Return to Place," pp. 447-462.

Newsweek, April 14, 1980, p. 109.

New York, March 31, 1980, p. 73; December 6, 1982, p. 154.

New Yorker, December 29, 1945, p. 68; February 3, 2003, Peter Schjeldahl, "The Searcher," p. 93.

New York Times, May 7, 2000, Helen A. Harrison, "Through His Drawings, Hartley's Delicate Side," p. 22; May 30, 2003, Grace Glueck, "The Heart of the Matter—The Still Lifes of Marsden Hartley," p. E36.

New York Times Book Review, December 22, 1996, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, December 2, 1996, review of Somehow a Past, p. 48.

Quarterly Review of Literature, winter, 1944, Henry W. Wells, "The Poetry of Marsden Hartley," pp. 100-106.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 4, 2005, Regina Hackett, "Hartley Collection Traces the Career of a Modern Pioneer," p. 16.

Seattle Times, January 16, 2005, Sheila Farr, "An American Original," p. K1.

Time, July 14, 1980, p. 68.*

Hartley, Marsden

views updated May 23 2018

HARTLEY, Marsden

HARTLEY, Marsden (b. 4 January 1877; d. 2 September 1943), artist, writer.

Edmund Hartley was born in Lewiston, Maine, to English immigrant working-class parents. After his mother's death when he was eight, he lived with an older sister nearby until rejoining his remarried father in 1893 in Cleveland, Ohio. There he began taking art classes, entered the Cleveland School of Art in 1898, and soon after received an annual stipend to study for five years in New York. After spending a year at the Chase School, Hartley transferred to the National Academy of Design, where he garnered several awards. At this time, he began spending summers in Maine and worked for two years as an extra in a New York theater company. Aside from his artistic studies, Hartley had no formal education beyond the age of sixteen, but he developed wide-ranging literary and intellectual interests, including a lifelong study of spiritual philosophy and mysticism.

Hartley's earliest known painting (ca. 1905) is, revealingly, a depiction of Walt Whitman's house in Camden, New Jersey; at the time, he knew several members of Whitman's circle. In 1906, Hartley moved back to Lewiston, adding his stepmother's maiden name, Marsden, to his own, then dropping Edmund entirely two years later. Moving to North Lovell, Maine, he painted a number of mountain landscapes in an impressionist style. In 1909, he was introduced to the famed New York art dealer and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who quickly gave Hartley his first solo exhibition at his 291 Gallery and was to exhibit his works until 1937. Moving to New York, he also met the eccentric landscape painter Albert Pinkham Ryder, painting several landscapes in a similar dark style. Circulating within a wide circle of artists, writers, and patrons, Hartley imbibed much of the newest European and American art at Stieglitz's gallery and elsewhere, being particularly influenced by Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne.

Hartley made his first trip to Europe in 1912–1913, staying in Paris (where he was befriended by Gertrude Stein), Berlin, and Munich. He was strongly affected by his sojourn in Germany, forming important artistic ties to Wassily Kandinsky, among others, and being seduced by the relative openness of gay life in prewar Berlin, in addition to admiring the manifest military culture and pageantry. After a brief trip to New York, Hartley returned to Berlin and stayed until late 1915, a crucial period for his painting. He developed a boldly colored abstract style, most notably exhibited in the German military paintings of 1913–1914, in large part a memorial to an apparent lover, Karl von Freyburg, a young officer who was killed in October 1914. Although receiving lukewarm notice when exhibited by Stieglitz in 1916 (partly because of anti-German feeling), these works are now commonly accepted as important early exponents of American modernism. Through knowledge of Hartley's life, their encoded gay symbolism has also now been successfully elucidated.

Realizing that his advanced style did not suit the time, Hartley spent the next twenty years restlessly searching for a place and a distinctive personal vision. Never staying longer than a few months in any lodging, he sojourned, sometimes repeatedly, in Provincetown, Massachusetts (where he shared a house with the painter Charles Demuth), Bermuda, Maine, New Mexico, California, Paris, Berlin, Italy, Provence, New Hampshire, Mexico, and Bavaria. Often vacillating in his work between more literal objectivity and subjective symbolism, Hartley gradually developed a pared-down style that at once reflected the cultural taste for a more "American" representation and yet was true to his own spiritual energy. He continued to alternate periods of rural isolation with active participation in artistic and literary circles in the United States and Europe; his own poems and essays were being published in prestigious journals such as Camera Work, Dial, and Poetry. He won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1931 and spent it working in Mexico. After a last European stay in 1933, Hartley returned to New York and a period of severe financial hardship during the Great Depression before finally settling for good in New England.

Hartley was considerably reenergized by his experiences living with a fishing family in 1935–1936 on the coast of Nova Scotia, reworking earlier painting motifs, exploring the harsh environment, and enjoying the idealized comfort of a domestic life. He became particularly attached to the young son of the family, Aldy Mason, whose drowning in September 1936 deeply affected him. Excepting brief stays in New York, he spent the rest of his life in Maine. In addition to painting powerful depictions of the rocky coast and Mount Katahdin, Hartley devoted himself significantly to figure painting, including archaic depictions of the Mason family in Fishermen's Last Supper and the homoerotic Christ Held by Half-Naked Men of 1940–1941; homages to Abraham Lincoln and Albert Pinkham Ryder; and portrayals of handsome local lobstermen, boxers, and swimmers. Such supermasculine figures as Madawaska–Acadian Light-Heavy (1940) almost flagrantly represent Hartley's desires, yet ironically during wartime also were able to symbolize for the public an unthreatening ideal of manhood, indeed winning for him a 1942 purchase prize from the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition "Artists for Victory." It was only in the last two years of his life that Hartley began to receive wide recognition again and to achieve more significant sales of his work. He died in Ellsworth, Maine, in 1943.

Hartley always maintained a delicate balance between openness and discretion in his life and art. Somewhat of a dandy in appearance and sophisticated tastes, he remained coy about his personal affairs, apparently including at least one heterosexual liaison. Freely participating in gay society from 1913 Berlin to 1942 New York (where he was photographed by George Platt Lynes), he also retained to the end of his life such telling souvenirs as a signed photograph of Whitman, along with a private stock of nude photographs and physique magazines. Barbara Haskell's catalog for the 1980 Whitney Museum retrospective was the first mainstream recognition of Hartley's homosexuality, followed by more indepth explorations by Townsend Ludington, Jonathan Weinberg, and others.


Hartley, Marsden. Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley. Edited by Susan Elizabeth Ryan. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997.

Haskell, Barbara. Marsden Hartley. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1980.

Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin, ed. Marsden Hartley. Hartford, Conn.: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2002.

Ludington, Townsend. Marsden Hartley: The Biography of an American Artist. Rev. ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Weinberg, Jonathan. Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant-Garde. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.

David P. Becker

see alsodemuth, charles; lynes, george platt; stein, gertrude, and alice b. toklas; visual art; whitman, walt.

Marsden Hartley

views updated May 18 2018

Marsden Hartley

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) was an American painter whose finest, most original works depict Maine's rocky shoreline and the fishermen who depend upon the sea for their livelihood.

Marsden Hartley's family left England to settle in Maine, where he was born. His first drawings were inspired by his interest in natural history. He studied on a scholarship at the Cleveland School of Art (1892-1898). Then he went to New York City to study painting under William Merritt Chase and Frank Dumond.

Hartley's earliest paintings after leaving school are impressionist and suggest the influence of the Italian painter Giovanni Segantini, whose work Hartley knew only through reproductions. Alfred Stieglitz gave Hartley his first exhibition at his "291" gallery. The show consisted mostly of "black landscapes, " done in the manner of Albert P. Ryder.

In 1912 Hartley traveled to Paris, Munich, and Berlin. Although he experimented with cubism, in Germany he discovered the style which provided the expressive pictorial elements he would develop during the rest of his career. He exhibited with the Blaue Reiter group in Munich and made friends with Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Paul Klee. A characteristic painting of this expressionist phase is Portrait of a German Officer (1914). Here Hartley expresses military pomp by showing only the officer's epaulets, abstracted with heightened color in contrast with coarse, black contours. This emblematic approach was modified some 3 years later when he turned to Paul Cézanne's work for direction. The influence of Cézanne is evident in Hartley's work as late as 1928.

In 1930 Hartley returned to America, where, except for brief visits to Mexico and Germany, he remained, doing his finest work. In Nova Scotia and in Bangor, Maine, he painted the craggy shoreline, dramatizing the dolmenlike rocks that were tilted as if to pit their bulk against a surging sea and a threatening sky. The sailboats that venture out in this inhospitable setting epitomize human indomitability and man's skill at harnessing natural powers. Hartley's most impressive paintings are his "archaic memory portraits" of Nova Scotia seamen, first exhibited in 1938. Hieratic and frontal, these figures are as austere and spiritualized as the saints depicted in Russian icons. It is as if these fishermen and their wives are immobilized and transfixed by the constant fear inherent in their perilous profession. Hartley painted a series of pictures of Mt. Katahdin, emulating, as he noted, the Japanese painter Ando Hiroshige, and, one might add, Cézanne.

Hartley also wrote verse. His first book, Twenty-five Poems, was published in Paris in 1922. He died at Ellsworth, Maine, on Sept. 2, 1943.

Further Reading

Elizabeth McCausland, Marsden Hartley (1952), is an extensive work on the artist. The Museum of Modern Art's catalog Lyonel Feininger—Marsden Hartley (1944) includes a brief text with some statements by the artist and a chronology of significant biographical events.

Additional Sources

Hartley, Marsden, Somehow a past: the autobiography of Marsden Hartley, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996.

Ludington, Townsend, Marsden Hartley: the biography of an American artist, Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.

Robertson, Bruce, Marsden Hartley, New York: Abrams in association with the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1995. □