MARSDEN HARTLEY (1877-1943)
Born in Lewiston, Maine, Marsden Hartley was a leading revolutionary force in the early 20th century American Modernism movement. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art before he moved to Manhattan in 1899. There he enrolled at the National Academy of Design where he studied for four years and was awarded with the Suydam Silver Medal for still-life drawing in 1902. In a meeting that was arguably the most influential of his life, Hartley was introduced to American art dealer and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who represented Charles Demuth, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and Georgia O’Keefe, amongst an enormous milleu of others, at his “291” gallery in New York. Stieglitz financed some of the many trips Hartley took abroad, and produced eight shows at the “291” gallery through 1937. On his first trip to Europe, Hartley met another giant in the art world, Gertrude Stein, who championed his work as he continued to travel onto Germany, where he settled in Berlin having falling in love with a young Prussian officer (tragically killed soon thereafter in the first World War), and became acquainted with fellow artist Wassily Kandinsky, traveling from Russia.
Movement, Sails was created during the course of Hartley’s stay in Provincetown. It is one of a small group of abstract pictures by the artist which derive their appearance from sailboats and related marine elements. Hartley spent the summer of 1916 in Provincetown, Maine with fellow American Modernist Charles Demuth, where he completed Movement, Sails. Hartley included the word “movement” in the title of many of these works, using it to denote paintings that were “abstracted” from the observed visual appearances of nature. Known for his abstracted, bold and graphic still-lives, it is an exciting departure with distinct historical links to a summer spent painting outdoors. In 1980, the art historian Barbara Haskell discussed the significance of Hartley’s Provincetown pictures in her catalogue essay for the retrospective of Hartley’s works at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Haskell noted that with “a vocabulary of arcs and triangular forms derived from sailboat motifs, these paintings constitute Hartley’s most radical venture into non-objectivity. The flatness toward which he had worked earlier is now complete; each area of the canvas occupies the surface plane with equal intensity. . . . In their flatness and geometric simplification, these works come closer than before to classic Synthetic Cubism. . . . Hartley’s Synthetic Cubist works of the Provincetown summer were . . . comparable to those being executed in Europe . . . .[At this time they] proved too advanced . . . for even the most sympathetic cosmopolitan admirers of his painting to fully appreciate” (Marsden Hartley [New York: The Whitney Museum of American Art, 1980], p. 55).