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This item is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.Inside Cover Portrait: Marsden Hartley (David C. Ward)
Marsden Hartley (1877–1943)
by Emil Otto Hoppé
Gelatin silver print
19.5cm × 16.1cm (711/16" × 65/16"), Image
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Marsden Hartley was born in Maine to English immigrant parents. Their early death left the child to be raised by a succession of relatives, all more or less impoverished. From this unlikely, and emotionally wounded, upbringing, Hartley became one of America’s great modern artists, a pioneer of abstract painting. He was a member of the famous ‘circle’ galvanised by the photographer and art impresario Alfred Stieglitz that helped transform American art around World War I. Perhaps because his childhood was so awful, Hartley always seemed to be looking for an ‘artistic’ home, passing through many distinct phases in his art – at times he painted like Cézanne or Georgia O’Keeffe – before ending his career in Maine. There he finally followed Stieglitz’s advice and painted American subjects, depicting the ordinary working people of the state in a rough neo-primitive style that seems a wilful rejection of his earlier abstract modernism. Restlessly ambitious and determined to leave a mark on American culture, Hartley was also a writer and a not inconsiderable poet. He was always hindered by his self-consciousness desire to be important and this lent his verse – as it did his art – a mannered tone that could be didactic or hectoring. Yet while he lacked the suppleness of (say) William Carlos Williams, he certainly was a better and more interesting writer than Sandburg and most of the regionalists. Hartley was somewhat obsessed with Hart Crane, perhaps because they were both homosexual, and the buttoned down Hartley, who was repressed to a fault, disdained Crane’s flamboyant ways. Yet he painted a brilliant obituary painting called Eight Bells Folly. Memorial to Hart Crane and he wrote two poems about Crane. One, ‘Un Recuerdo – Hermano – Hart Crane’, is a lament and a reproach for what Hartley considered Crane’s inexplicably selfish act: ‘In ebony and oxbone whitened in the sun/are you housed and harboured now,/symbolled of profusioned hours and what came –’ What came for Crane was an early end. What came for Hartley was the continual struggle to make himself matter to art.
DAVID C. WARD
This item is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.