Marsden Hartley

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Marsden Hartley

Marsden Hartley (January 4, 1877September 2, 1943) was an American Modernist painter and poet in the early 20th century. He lived and worked several years in Europe (Germany and France, Aix en Provence). The landscape was his favourite subject; Cézanne was his great inspiration, together with William Blake and Emerson's writings.

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  • I believe until a man has given up himself he has given up nothing - all his knowledge of accepted aesthetics are of no avail until he has stepped aside from them and given up himself – himself only through the eyes of himself. What a problem everlasting then is it not? A life time of breathless endeavor to be the thing and do the thing of his being – So easy to travel along with claques and crowds, voicing vociferously the great discoveries of each – How ineffably difficult, voicing the soul of one man – alone to himself and – then to whomever else hears..
    • letter to Alfred Sieglitz, June 1911, Hartley Archive, Yale University, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 147


  • What I have to express is not handled with words. It must ‘come’ tot the observer. It must carry its influence over the mind of the individual into that region of him which is more than the mind. The pictures must reach inwards into the deeper experiences of the beholder – and mind you they care in no sense religious tracts – there is no story to them or literature – no morals – they are merely artistic expressions of mystical states – these in themselves being my own personal motives as drawn from either special experiences or aggregate ones.
    • letter to Alfred Stieglitz, September 28, 1913, Hartley Archive, Yale University, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 9


  • ..the virtue of Yankee upbringing spiritually speaking is of more downright value to me than any past heritages.
    • Somehow a Past, 1933-c, 1939; unpublished manuscript, Hartley Archive, Yale University, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 11


  • (I was) happily contended to be climbing the heights and the clouds by the brush method.. .. rendering the God-spirit in the mountains.
    • letter to Horace Traubel around 1908, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 18


  • My work embodies little visions of the great intangible.. ..Some will say he’s gone mad – others will look and say he’s looked in at the lattices of Heaven and come back with the madness of splendor on him.
    • letter to Seumus O’Sheel, October 10, 1908, Hartley Archive, Archives of American Art, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 25


  • The same feeling (he saw a work of A. Ryder for the very first time, fh)) came over me in the given degree as came out of the Emerson’s Essays when they were first given to me I I felt as I have read a page of the Bible in both cases. All my essential Yankee qualities we re brought forth out of this picture and if I needed to be stamped an American this was the first picture that had done this – for it had in it everything that I knew and had experienced about my own New England – even though I had never lived by the sea – it had in it the stupendous solemnity of a Blake (English religious painter, fh) picture and it had a sense of realism besides that bore such a force of nature itself as to leave me breathless.
    • Somehow a Past, 1933-c, 1939, unpublished manuscript, Hartley Archive, Yale University, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 26


  • It is the incongruous thing in my entire life, this isolation.. ..My work requires it – but I myself have no need or use for it – Perhaps once on a time I found isolation imperative – I think all chrysalides do – all embryos go for the underside of the leaf in the time of body-change preparing for the final reassertion –resurrection – the establishment of the entity. But now I’ve come up tot the outside of my casements.
    • Marsden Hartley Revisited or, Were We Really Ever There, by Peter Plagens, Artforum 7, May 1969, p. 41


  • They are the gateway for our modern esthetic development, the prophets of the new time. They are most of all, the primitives of the way they have begun; they have voiced most of all the imperative need of essential personalism, of direct expression of direct experience.
    • Whitman and Cézanne, in Adventures in the Arts, New York, Boni Liveright 1921, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 34


  • I could never be French, I could never become German – I shall always remain American – the essence which is in me is American mysticism just as Davies declared it when he saw those first landscapes.
    • letter to A. Stieglitz, February 8, 1913, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 44


  • ..by getting as close to the true idea of religion, of spirituality as it is possible for us to get.. .. we would be in possession of the only tangible relationship tot the deity in things.
    • letter to Rockwell Kent, August 22, 1912, Archives of American Art, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 44


  • The essential of a real picture is that the things which occur in it occur to him in his peculiarly personal fashion.. ..the idea of modernity is but a new attachment of things universal – a fresh relationship to the courses of the sun and to the living swing of the earth – a new fire of affection for the living essence present everywhere.
    • statement for catalogue of 1914 exhibition at 291, reprinted in On art, p. 62, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 49


  • Every painter must traverse for himself that distance from Paris to Aix (where Paul Cézanne worked a lot, fh) or from Venice to Toledo (where El Greco painted a lot, fh). Expression is for one knowing its own pivot. Every expressor relates solely to himself – that is the concern of the individualist.
    • statement for catalogue of Forum exhibition 1916, reprinted in On art, p. 66-67, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 57


  • My work has the abstraction underneath it all now & what I deliberately set out to do down here, for this is the perfect realistic abstraction in landscape.
    • letter to Alfred Stieglitz, October 9, 1919, Hartley Archive, Yale University, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 68


  • They want Americans to be American, and yet they offer little or no spiritual sustenance for their growth and welfare (on critics to stop his long European stay, fh)
    • letter to Adelaide Kuntz, June 23, 1928, Archives of American Art, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 81


  • the place (Dogtown, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, fh) is forsaken and majestically lovely as if nature had at last formed one spot where she can live for herself alone.. (it) looked like a cross between Easter Island and Stonehenge – essentially druidic in it appearance, it gives the feeling that an ancient race might turn up at any moment and renew an ageless rite there.
    • Somehow a Past, 1933-c, 1939, unpublished manuscript, Hartley Archive, Yale University, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 90


  • These people have that sort of incandescence, which is peculiar to those who know the meaning of simplicity & humility. They are illumined from within makes them essentially mystical in their sense of life (on the Mason-family in Nova Scotia, he stayed during 1935 – 1938 and which he portrayed several times, fh)
    • letter to A. Sieglitz, October 28, 1936, Hartley Archive, Yale University, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 111


  • For wine, they drank the ocean – for bread, they ate their own despairs; counsel from the moon was theirs – for the foolish contention - Murder is not a pretty thing – yet seas do raucous everything to make it pretty – for the foolish or the brave, a way seas have.
    • poem on his painting: Fishermen’s Last Supper (the Mason family 1940-1941), as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 113


  • It is never difficult to see images – when the principle of the image is embedded in the soul.
    • Hartley to Kuntz, April 4, 1932, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 124


  • I see the possibility of being ‘made new’ again and the gift of rebirth is all that lets anyone really live.. ..The great secret.. .. is never to get stuck, imprisoned in common social patterns. They always paralyse the real quality of life – the ‘going onward’ is all that matters, and the dead moments in one’s life through trying to be a unit in any society or social concept are terrifying really.
    • letter to Adelaide Kuntz, September 7, 1933, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 168


  • I don’t want to escape via intellectual ruses – I want affirmations via passionate embraces & you can’t have life unless you live it.
    • letter to Adelaide Kuntz, November 6, 1935, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 169


  • (they) maintain an enviable balance between the material & spiritual worlds (so) they symbolize for me the term ideal. (remark on the Mason family where Hartley stayed during 1938 – 1941)
    • Hartley to Kuntz, September 9, 1936, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 124-125


  • I have achieved the ‘sacred’ pilgrimage to Ktaadn MT – exceeding all my expectations so far that I am sort of helpless with words. I feel as if I have seen God for the first time, and find him so nonchalantly solemn.
    • letter to Adelaide Kuntz, October 24, 1939, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 130


  • My work is getting stronger & stronger and more intense all the time.. ..I have such a rush of new energy & notions coming into my head, over my horizon like chariots of fire that all I want is freedom to step aside and execute them.
    • Hartley to Kuntz, February 2, 1940, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 147


  • I have always said that you do not see a thing until you look away from it. In other words, an object or a fact in nature has not become itself until it has been projected in the realm of the imagination. Therefore what has been retained in the mind’s eye is what lives. I have seldom or never worked from nature for this reason and so what I see is what I believe to be true, and that becomes the truism of the creative artist.
    • Is Art necessary?, unpublished essay, 1942, Hartley Archive, Yale University, as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 151


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