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Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism

June 14 - August 24, 2008


A group of paintings by one of the most brilliant and complicated of all of the American modernists will be on view June 14 - August 24, 2008 at the Amon Carter Museum in the special exhibition Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism. (right: Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), New Mexico Recollection No. 13, ca. 1923, Oil on canvas. Collection of Eric and Debbie Green)

The exhibition brings together 38 works from Hartley's New Mexico years, perhaps the most overlooked and least understood period of his career. Visitors will experience one artist's personal journey to find something authentically American in the landscape of the West. The exhibition was organized by Heather Hole, formerly a curator at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and now a 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 first-hand 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 (l877-1943) was a member of the circle of artists around photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, who married Georgia O'Keeffe in 1924. He 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, Hartley rose to the forefront of the revolutionary experimentations in abstraction taking place in Germany in 1913 and 1914, becoming 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. World War I forced Hartley to return home in 1915, however, and he began to question European-style modernism because he saw it as the product of a culture that had produced the massive devastation of the war. (left: Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), Landscape, New Mexico, 1920, Oil on composition board. Collection of the Roswell Museum and Art Center. Gift of Ione and Hudson Walker)

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 West. He arrived in Taos 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. He was ultimately dissatisfied with the artist community he found there and moved to Santa Fe, where his work became less descriptive and more schematic. 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. (right: Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), Landscape, New Mexico, ca. 1923, Oil on canvas. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn)

"We are excited to be able to present the Hartley New Mexico paintings to the community," said Amon Carter Museum Director Ron Tyler. "This museum has excellent landscape and modern American collections, and seeing Hartley's work in this context will enhance the understanding of our collections as well as this special exhibition. Here at the Carter, we also like to present focused exhibitions that allow our visitors to view a particular series of works in depth. Hartley was in New Mexico before Georgia O'Keeffe, and it is fascinating to see how he interpreted the same landscapes that she later made so famous."

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication of the same name that was written by Heather Hole and published by Yale University Press.

Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism was organized by the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. It has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of its American Masterpieces program, The Burnett Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, and The Kerr Foundation. The Fort Worth presentation of the exhibition is made possible in part by an anonymous gift.

Admission to the exhibition is free.


(above: Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), Pueblo Mountain, 1918, Pastel on paper. Collection of Lee and Judy Dirks)


(above: Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), Valley Road, 1919-20, Oil on canvas. Cincinnati Art Museum, The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial)


(above: Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), Window, New Mexico, c. 1923, Oil on canvas. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn)


Public Programs:

The following programs are admission free.

Saturday, June 14, 11 a.m. Lecture
Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism
Heather Hole, assistant curator of paintings, Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Thursday, June 26, 6 p.m. Gallery Talk
Marsden Hartley and Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico
Rebecca Lawton, curator of paintings and sculpture, Amon Carter Museum
Sunday, August 10, 1 - 4 p.m. Target Family Fun Day
Canyons, Clouds and Colors

Editor's note: readers may also enjoy

these articles and essays:

these articles and essays on "American Scene" painting and "regionalism":

from Topics in American Representational Art:

this online video:

from TFAO's Videos catalogue, an authoritative guide to videos in VHS and DVD format:

Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye is a 90 minute 2000 American Masters series WET video directed by Perry Miller Oddity.

From the Back Cover: "Stieglitz, who is revered as one of the most innovative photographers of the 20th century, played a primary role in fostering new talent. Through his three galleries in New York City, he mentored emerging artists such as Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Angel Adams, Eliot Porter and Georgia O'Keeffe; and introduced avant-garde Europeans such as Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne, Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso.... This revealing look at "The Father of Modern Photography" features a rare interview with Georgia O'Keeffe, Stieglitz's wife and muse, as well as archival footage of other artistic giants he inspired, including Edward Steichen and John Marin. Additionally, the film presents countless images from the Stieglitz archives, ranging from early European peasant life to later views of New York's urban landscape."

"Surveys the life and achievements of Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) who played a major role in introducing America to modern art while championing the elevation of photography as an art form. Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and Georgia O'Keeffe were just a few of the first wave of American artists whom Stieglitz mentored through his three influential galleries in New York City. It was there also that he introduced America to European masters Matisse, Cezanne, Rodin and Picasso. At the same time he was exhibiting the best artists of the period, Stieglitz' own impressive body of photographic work firmly established him as one of the leading artists of the 20th century." VHS/DVD. Description source: Amon Carter Museum Teacher Resource Center

Note: TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell videos. Please click here for information on how to borrow or purchase copies of VHS videos and DVDs listed in TFAO's catalogue.

these books:

Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism, by Heather Hole. Contributor Director Barbara Buhler Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Staff. Published 2007 by Yale University Press. 208 pages. ISBN:0300121490.

Google Books says:

Considered to be among the greatest early American modernists, the painter Marsden Hartley (1877­1943) traveled the United States and Europe in his search for a distinctive American aesthetic. His stay in New Mexico resulted in an extraordinary series of landscape paintings-created in New Mexico, New York, and Europe between 1918 and 1924-that show an evolution in style and thinking that is important for understanding both Hartley's oeuvre and American modernism in the postwar years. Marsden Hartley and the West examines this pivotal stage of the painter's career, drawing upon his writings and providing illustrations of rarely seen and previously unpublished works. The author considers Hartley's involvement with the Stieglitz circle and its "soil-and-spirit" philosophy, the Taos art colony, New York Dada, and the impact of historical events such as World War I. Within this setting she analyzes the pastels and oil paintings that suggest Hartley's increasingly ambivalent response to the land. Beginning with optimistic, naturalistic views, the New Mexico works grew progressively darker and more tumultuous, increasingly reflecting a sense of loss brought on by war. The paintings become a site where the landscapes of memory, self, and nation merge, while reflecting broader modernist debates about "American-ness" and a usable past.

Note: Google Books offers a Limited Preview of this book. For more information on this and other digitizing initiatives from publishers please click here and here. (right: front cover, Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism, image courtesy Google Books)

Marsden Hartley, by Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, Marsden Hartley, Ulrich Birkmaier, Patricia McDonnell. Published 2002 by Yale University Press. 334 pages. ISBN:0300097670.

Google Books says:

Catalogue of an exhibition on display at the Wadsworth Atheneum from January 17th to April 12th 2003, at Los Angeles County Museum of Art from May 18th to August 24th 2003, at the Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. from June 7th to September 7th 2003, and at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, from October 11th 2003 to January 11th 2004.

Note: Google Books offers a Limited Preview of this book. For more information on this and other digitizing initiatives from publishers please click here and here. (right: front cover, Marsden Hartley, image courtesy Google Books)


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