A group of paintings by one of the most brilliant and complicated of all of the American modernists will be on view June 14⁁ugust 24 at the Amon Carter Museum in the special exhibition “Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism.”
The exhibition brings together 38 works from Hartley’s New Mexico years, perhaps the most overlooked and least understood period of his career. Heather Hole organized the exhibit when she was curator at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; she is now curator of American art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
“We are especially pleased to present the extraordinarily powerful landscapes that Hartley painted of New Mexico,” said Rebecca Lawton, curator of paintings and sculpture at the Carter. “He was a restless and experimental artist, continually traveling throughout his career on aesthetic explorations. By going to the Southwest in 1918, he intended to experience nature directly, to work exclusively from his own firsthand experiences, but his ulterior motive was more ambitious: to redefine American art through the depiction of the American landscape. This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to look closely at this complex artist and chart, through the works he created during a six-year period, his progress in achieving his goal.”
Marsden Hartley (l877‱943) was a member of the circle of artists around photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, who married Georgia O’Keeffe in 1924. Hartley first became known to Stieglitz and the New York art world in 1909 for his innovative depictions of his home state of Maine.
Later, when he was traveling in Europe, 1913‱914, Hartley became one of the first American artists to produce avant-garde modernist art on a par with European work. His masterful “American Indian Symbols,” painted at this time, is a part of the Amon Carter Museum’s collection.
Back in New York, Hartley embarked on a mission to create an independent, American modern art that did not draw on European tradition, and he decided to seek this new vision in the American West. He arrived in Taos, N.M., in June 1918 at the invitation of arts patron Mabel Dodge, and began creating spontaneous and naturalistic pastels of the area. Bright and engaging, Hartley’s Taos pastels are some of the most representational works of his entire career.
Hartley also began to experiment with oil paintings based on the pastels. He was still defining a style with which to depict New Mexico in oil paint when he returned to New York in the fall of 1919.
It was there, between 1919 and 1921, that Hartley painted bright, forceful oils of New Mexico. More vigorous than the paintings he executed in New Mexico, these works grew increasingly stylized and imaginative.
Although Hartley left the United States again for Europe in 1921, he somehow could not leave New Mexico behind. He began work on the powerful “New Mexico Recollections” series in Berlin in 1923.
These extraordinary pictures are among the most complex and multilayered depictions of the American landscape produced between the wars. When taken as a whole, the tumultuous “Recollections” depict a landscape of memory and fantasy, closer to a dreamscape than the kind of concrete landscape depicted in the early New Mexico pastels.
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication of the same name that was written by Heather Hole and published by Yale University Press.
The Amon Carter Museum is at 3501 Camp Bowie Boulevard. For more information, www.cartermuseum.org or 817-738-1933.