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Lot 197: Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)

Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

by Christie's

May 19, 2005

New York, NY, USA

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Description: Movement, Sails
signed 'Marsden Hartley' (center right)
oil on board
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted in 1916.

Notes: PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTION

The present painting, Movement, Sails is one of the earliest and most advanced Cubist paintings produced by any artist in America. Hartley created the work in Provincetown, Massachusetts during the summer of 1916, where he had commenced a series of related paintings. Having left New York for Provincetown at the invitation of the radical writer, John Reed, the artist embarked on a new body of almost purely abstract compositions.

Reed offered Hartley a rent-free room for the summer. While there, the painter found himself in the midst of a lively artistic community. As described by Elizabeth Kornhauser, "In Provincetown, which was already known as a vibrant artistic summer colony, he socialized with a broad spectrum of artists, writers, and actors, including Charles Demuth, William and Marguerite Zorach, Max Eastmann, and Eugene O'Neill (whose plays were first produced by the Provincetown Players that summer). Hartley later referred to it as 'the Great Provincetown Summer.'" (Mardsen Hartley, New Haven, Connecticut, 2003. p. 299)

As noted by Bruce Robertson, while immersed in this milieu Hartley also concentrated on new pictorial solutions, "He continued to paint both still lifes and abstract groupings of real-world elements (boats rather than uniforms but still just parts of a whole), but now subjected them to a rigorous pruning of color and energy. These abstract paintings cohere in the center of the composition, rather than fly about decoratively over the entire surface. Now Hartley pays attention to the surface with new concentration, producing quietly charming works which are almost monochromatic." (Marsden Hartley, New York, 1995, p. 71)
Working in a Synthetic Cubist style derived from his recent European work, Hartley produced a series of closely related compositions, several of which share in their titles the word "Movement," perhaps as a way of emphasizing their strongly abstract qualities. As suggested by the title, Movement, Sails, the immediate basis of this abstraction is a sailboat, defined by the large, gray sail shape at center and the suggestion of a black mast at the top of the composition. With a limited palette of brown, black, white and earth-tone reds, Hartley's use of color is restrained, especially in comparison to the expressive and even violently colored paintings of the European works that immediately precede them. The elements of the painting are weighted toward the center and instead of fixing the sailboat against a horizon of water and sky, he chose to present the composition against a white background that further emphasizes its formal qualities.

The target-like shape at the bottom center--which also appears in a closely related work, Trixie (1916-17, Private Collection)--hints at various other compositional devices he favored with the German Officer series. Adapting the Synthetic Cubist style that he developed in Europe, Hartley presents in Movement, Sails a composition which veers as close to pure abstraction as any works he created.

In its abstraction, Movement, Sails contrasts with other, more literal compositions created at the same time, such as Movement, No. 5, Provincetown (1916, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), in which Hartley paints in a Modernist and more pictorial style, with several sailboats on the water and the village of Provincetown clearly delineated in the foreground. Other paintings in this series offer images on the sailboat theme abstracted to a much higher degree. Included among these are Movement No. 8, Provincetown (1916, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut), one of his more formal and rectilinear sail abstractions, and Sail Boat (circa 1916, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio), a more exuberant composition of sails bent with the wind, likely painted on Hartley's trip with Charles Demuth to Bermuda that winter. Stylistically, Movement, Sails fits midway between these latter two works, offering a unified, geometric abstraction of considerable visual vitality. The work also represents a turning point in his career, one in which he develops a more quiet, lyrical and poetic aesthetic. With his other abstractions produced in these years, Movement, Sails represents Hartley's last sustained exploration of purely abstract painting.

Provenance: Waldo Frank, New York, 1921.
Washburn Gallery, New York.
Loretta and Robert K. Lifton, New York, early 1970s.

Artist or Maker: Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)

Exhibited: New York, The Anderson Galleries, Seventy-Five Pictures by James N. Rosenberg and 117 Pictures by Marsden Hartley, May 17, 1921, no. 50b. New York, Bernard Danenberg Galleries, Inc., Marsden Hartley: A Retrospective Exhibition, September 16-October 4, 1962, no. 9.
Paris, France, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris--New York, June 1-September 19, 1977.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art and elsewhere, Marsden Hartley, March 25-January 4, 1981.

Literature: Bernard Danenberg Galleries, Marsden Hartley: A Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1969, p. 13, no. 9, illustrated.

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