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EXHIBITED: New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, On the Bright Side: A Loan Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture, 1942

PROVENANCE: Macbeth Gallery, NY; Paul Rosenberg & Co.NY; Doris Bry, NY;

Private collection, 2011

LITERATURE: Elizabeth McCausland, Archives of American Art online catalogue raisonne, Box 16, folder 7, file 3

In 1937, after a lifetime of peripatetic wandering, Marsden Hartley returned to his native state of Maine.  This turned out to be the beginning of the final phase of a career during which he had often been denied critical approval, and had experienced years of desperate financial struggles. At last he came to enjoy some recognition and respect, winning prizes and thereby earning a decent income. Still Life with Flowers, painted in 1941, is a work from this period. He had declared himself "the painter from Maine" and in 1940 he boarded with Forest and Katie Young in Corea, a small fishing village on Maine's Atlantic coast. Forest Young was a lobster fisherman, and Hartley made the Young’s home his own until his death in 1943.

He painted floral still lifes throughout his career. Still Life with Flowers, one of the last of these, offers a fitting coda on the artist's delight in the subject. The compositional symmetry, black outlining of forms, infilling of intense color, and two-dimensional rendering of space and forms reminiscent of folk art, all reference the artist’s studies in Germany during 1913-1915 of Bavarian hinterglasmalerei (reverse painting on glass). He was subsequently exposed to early American reverse painting on glass at the Ogunquit art colony in 1917, where he actually took up the medium. The brilliant colors, the thick impasto, the “lights and brights wrested out of enveloping darkness” (Wilkin), all contribute to a vision of floral exuberance and indomitable life. Hartley exhibited this picture in a 1942 wartime show of contemporary work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called On the Bright Side, an aptly titled venue for this canvas.

References:

McDonnell, P. (2006). Marsden Hartley, American modern: selections from the Ione and Hudson D. Walker Collection. Minneapolis: Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota.

Wilkin, K. (1985). Marsden Hartley (1877 -1943): paintings and drawings. New York, NY: Salander-OReilly Galleries.

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