Marsden Hartley, “Canuck Lumberjack at Old Orchard Beach, Maine”, 1940-1941, Oil on Masonite
Marsden Hartley, one of the first American artists to paint in a completely abstract mode, was part of the circle of artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Charles Demuth, and John Marin, who congregated around and were promoted by photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Hartley incorporated into his own paintings the abstract trends that he witnessed first-hand during his time among avant-garde artists in Europe during the 1910s.
While his early abstract style met with resistance back in the States, Hartley, undeterred, continued to paint his more recognizable subject matter with the same vivid colors, sharp contrasts, simplified forms, and ambiguous space that he mastered early in his career.
His landscape paintings, imbued with the spirit of 19th century American Transcendentalism, as well as his later portraits, which convey a love for and the earnestness of his subjects, are a uniquely American version of modernism that continue to resonate among younger contemporary artists today.
While he rarely discussed his private relationships in public, many now surmise that Hartley had several gay relationships throughout his life. At various points, he commemorated these relationships – more subtly in his early painting and more overtly in his later paintings – making Hartley an important early touchstone for gay identity in the United States.