June 03, 2018 12:00 PM EDT Treadway Gallery


Marsden Hartley oil on canvas

Marsden Hartley
(American, 1877-1943)

oil on canvas
MacBeth stamp and numbered verso
7"h x 7"w
overall: 11"h x 11"w

Catalog Note:

Marsden Hartley was born Edmund Hartley in Lewiston, Maine on January 4th, 1877. As a young man he studied at the Cleveland School of Art prior to moving to New York in 1898 after receiving financial backing. Once there he attended William Merritt Chase’s School of Art before transferring to the National Academy of Design, where he won the academy’s Suydam Silver Medal for still-life drawing.

It was 1909 that brought the major turning point in Hartley’s career: he was introduced to Alfred Stieglitz, famous photographer and art impresario, who arranged a single artist exhibition of Hartley’s work at the 291 Gallery. This relationship spanned nearly three decades, and was, at times, tumultuous. However, it was the financial support of both Stieglitz and Arthur B. Davies (another artist and advocate of the arts) that provided Hartley the opportunity to travel to Europe in 1912.

It was during this period abroad in Paris that Hartley spend considerable time in the home of American collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein, exposing him to the works of famous French modernists Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse, as well as Pablo Picasso. In 1913 Hartley moved on to Berlin where he became associated with Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, the latter with whom he exhibited with at the Herbstsalon in Berlin. World War I forced Hartley to return to the US in 1915, but his time spent in Europe helped break Hartley out of his formerly abstract style and he began to create the expressive landscapes and unconventional portraits and still-lifes he’s known for today. Although he traveled abundantly and spent time living in numerous cities across the United States and Mexico, Hartley always returned to his native Maine. His love for the New England landscapes is evident in a large number of his works, the relationship complex but ultimately essential in who he was as an artist. Hartley died in Ellsworth, Maine on September 2nd, 1943.

His works are found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., among many others.

We believe this work to be a study for Hartley’s ‘Cosmos’, which is in the collection of the Columbus Museum of Art. Its subject matter, style, technique, and execution are virtually the same as what we are currently offering for auction.

This painting comes from the home of James Mellow of Rockport, MA. A well-known art critic and book reviewer for the New York Times, Mellow was a personal friend of both Marsden Hartley and Helen Stein. Helen Stein was one of Hartley’s closest friends and confidants. An artist herself, she studied at the Art Students League with Max Weber in New York before moving to Paris in 1927, where she lived and worked in a studio designed for her by Le Corbusier. She returned to the States and became a member of the Society of Independent Artists from 1930 to 1939. It was during this time she painted a notable portrait of Hartley. She also had in her personal art collection a number of Hartley’s works. In fact, it was for his birthday one year that Stein gifted Mellow this Hartley work we’re offering. Mellow had previously admired it for years while in Stein’s collection. Stein died in 1964 in Gloucester, MA. During this same time, Mellow was working in New York as the editor for Arts Magazine, in addition to his work for the New York Times. He also had a home in Rockport, MA, where both Stein and Hartley summered, escaping the heat in New York City. Later in his career Mellow found his true calling, as a literary biographer. As a critic, he wrote about a wide range of artists, but as a biographer, he was most interested in 19th-century American artists - likely influenced by the circles he ran in. Mellow died at his home in Rockport in 1997.

Hartley’s work was exhibited at the Met Breuer at MOMA in March through June of 2017. The exhibit revealed several landscapes that are quite similar to the painting we’re currently offering. They include 'The Silence of High Noon- Midsummer', 'Hall of the Mountain King', 'Carnival of Autumn', and 'The Ice Hole’. Additionally, many of Hartley’s landscapes carry numbers. The painting offered here is numbered on verso and it carries the label from MacBeth Gallery in New York City, where two major solo shows of Hartley’s works were held in 1942 and 1945.

It is also known that Hartley executed sketches in both 7” and 11” square formats, on loose canvases which he tacked to a board to paint. It is our belief that this work was handled similarly, as it is a loose canvas and was never stretched. The backing board bears the stamp and number. It is also our belief that the painting was painted on a larger sized canvas, which was probably tacked to a board and then trimmed after completion, therefore cutting off the tack holes in the margins. This idea is supported by the pencil marks under the paint layer creating essentially a 7” square format.  The canvas on at least two sides has a sharp edge, so it was cut down leaving room to accommodate the 7” square format.

Provenance:James Mellow, Rockport, MA
a New England collection


Painting in excellent condition consistent with its age. Surface is dirty. Ultraviolet light reveals no conservation.

Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium


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