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Marsden Hartley

Born: 1877, Lewiston, Maine, United States of America
Died: 1943, Ellsworth, Maine, United States of America

Painting No. 50
1914–15

Oil on canvas
Image: 47 x 47 in. (119.4 x 119.4 cm)
Frame: 49 9/16 x 49 1/2 in. (125.9 x 125.7 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.61
Signed: Unsigned
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

Painting No. 50 is one of about six abstract works on Native American themes, the so-called Amerika series, which Marsden Hartley painted in Berlin in 1914 and 1915. Perfectly square in format and symmetrical in composition, Painting No. 50 incorporates superimposed and overlapping Indian motifs—a teepee, canoe, and bow and arrow—and symbols for such natural elements as the sun, moon, trees, rain, sky, and water, while the extensions from the apex of the central triangle suggest the symmetrical wings of an insect or bird. The references to Indian culture are combined with evocations of contemporary Berlin and the frenzy of militaristic fervor and pageantry in the imperial capital on the eve of war. Some elements, such as the target-like concentric circles and the repeated stripes and zig-zags, link the dense patterning of Indian design to flags and military insignia, and the numerals 7, 8, and 9 refer mystically to the departure of the artist’s friends, German army officers, for battle. The energetic effect of Hartley’s striking primary colors, bold patterning, and deliberately rough paint application is rigidly contained within the composition’s hieratic, symmetrical structure. Painting No. 50 combines the uncompromising directness of an advertising signboard with a cryptic, almost secretive expression of personal emotions held rigidly in check.

Influenced by the stark aesthetic of German folk paintings on glass, with their flat forms, strong color, and symmetrical design, Hartley had already experimented with abstract compositions built up from recognizable, often symbolic forms and organized around principles of symmetry and hierarchy. In his assemblages of symbolic elements from uniforms, flags, and other regalia, Hartley celebrated the pomp and heroic idealism of Imperial German military culture or, inspired by the death of a young officer with whom the artist was infatuated, paid homage to fallen heroes. In the Amerika series, Hartley went further, borrowing his aesthetic of flat patterning and rigid symmetry from the choreographed hierarchical displays of massed, uniformed warriors—a spectacle that resonated within the homoerotic culture of contemporary Berlin.

With his Amerika series, Hartley demonstrated both his strong sense of national identity as an American artist abroad and his association with contemporary modernist movements. Hartley was proud to be one of very few American artists to exhibit with the avant-garde group known as the Blue Rider, based in Munich, Germany. Along with their modernist counterparts in Paris and elsewhere, these artists were fascinated by the powerful, intuitive directness of so-called primitive culture; like Germans generally, the Blue Rider artists were drawn to Native American arts. Indian motifs thus allowed Hartley both to announce his affiliation with the European modernists and to assert his distinctive American identity. His lack of first-hand knowledge of Indian cultures was irrelevant to his purpose: he copied native symbols and designs from artifacts at Berlin’s ethnographic museum but freely mixed imagery from various tribes of the Plains and the Southwest to evoke the clichéd image of the Indian found in movies, storybooks, and advertising. By calling his series “Amerika”—using the German spelling—Hartley emphasized Germans’ stereotyped image of Indians and of America itself, at once declaring his insider status as a member of the German art community and reifying his lonely individuality as an American expatriate.

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Provenance

The artist
Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, New York
Private collection, New York
Peter H. Davidson & Company, Inc., New York
Mr. and Mrs. Rolf Weinberg, Zurich, Switzerland
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, New York
Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1986
Terra Foundation for the Arts, Chicago, Illinois, 1999

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Exhibition History

Marsden Hartley, Munchener Graphix-Verlag, Berlin, Germany (organizer). Venue: Munchener Graphix-Verlag, Berlin, Germany, October 1915.

Marsden Hartley, Little Galleries of the Photo Secession, New York, New York (organizer). Venue: Little Galleries of the Photo Secession, New York, New York, April 4-22, 1916.

Marsden Hartley: The Berlin Period, Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, New York (organizer). Venue: Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, New York, January 3–29, 1955.

The Martha Jackson Collection, Seibu, Toyko, Japan, 1971.

Immagine Per La Citta, Accademia di belle arte e Palazzo Reale, Genova, Italy, April 8–June 11, 1972 (as Painting No. 49). [exh. cat.]

The Private Collection of Martha Jackson, University of Maryland Art Gallery, College Park, Maryland (organizer). Venues: University of Maryland Art Gallery, College Park, Maryland, June 22–September 30, 1973; Finch College Museum of Art, New York, New York, October 16–November 25, 1973; Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, January 8–February 10, 1974 (as Painting no. 49). [exh. cat.]

Second Williams College Alumni Loan Exhibition, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, New York (organizer). Venues: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, New York, April 1–24, 1976; Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, May 9–June 13, 1976 (as Painting no. 49). [exh. cat.]

'Rot konstruiert' und 'Super Table': Eine Schweizer Sammlung moderner Kunst, 1909–1939, Kunstmuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland (organizer). Venue: Kunstmuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland, March 2–April 13, 1980. [exh. cat.]

A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 21–June 21, 1987. [exh. cat.]

Collection Cameo, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, February 1991.

Selected Works from the Collections: Two Hundred Years of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 12–August 27, 1997.

L'Amérique et les modernes, 1900–1950 (American Moderns, 1900–1950), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, July 25–October 31, 2000. [exh. cat.]

Permanent collection installation, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, December 9, 2000–February 11, 2001.

On Process: Studio Themes, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, January 13–March 4, 2001.

Selections from the Permanent Collection: Two Centuries of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, March 10–July 1, 2001.

Selections from the Permanent Collection: American Moderns, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, July 14–October 7, 2001.

D'une colonie à une collection: le Musée d'Art Américain Giverny fête ses dix ans (From a Colony to a Collection: Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the Musée d'Art Américain Giverny), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, March 30–June 16, 2002.

A Place on the Avenue: Terra Museum of American Art Celebrates 15 Years in Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, November 16, 2002–February 16, 2003 (on exhibit extended run: November 2, 2002–March 2, 2003).

A Narrative of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, February 13–October 31, 2004.

Collection Cameo, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 2004.

Expanded Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, April 15, 2005–August 15, 2005.

The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915–1945,Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington (organizer). Venues: Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa, September 17, 2005–January 1, 2006; Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington, February 4–May 21, 2006. [exh. cat]

Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, NY and Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, IL (organizers). Venues: National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China, February 9–April 5, 2007; Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China, April 30–June 30, 2007; Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, China, April 30–June 30, 2007(Shanghai presentations ran concurrently); The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia, July 23–September 9, 2007 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain, October 15, 2007–April 27, 2008 . [exh. cat.]

Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, June 2008–March 2013.

Marsden Hartley - Die deutschen Bilder (Marsden Hartley: The German paintings 1913–1915), Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (organizer). Venues: Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, Germany, April 5–June 29, 2014; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, August 3–November 30, 2014. [exh.cat.]

Galleries of American Art with loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, January 2015–March 2018.

America’s Cool Modernism: O’Keeffe to Hopper, Terra Foundation for American Art and the Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology, Oxford, UK (organizers.) Venue: Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology, Oxford, UK, March 23, 2018–July 22, 2018 [exh. cat.]

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Published References

Immagine per la Citta. (exh. cat., Palazzo dell’Academia Palazzo Reale). Genova, Italy: Ente manifestazioni Genovesi, 1972. Text p. 54, 372 (checklist); ill. p. 79 (black & white, as Painting No. 49).

The Private Collection of Martha Jackson. (exh. cat. University of Maryland Art Gallery). College Park, Maryland: University of Maryland Art Gallery, 1973. Text p. 44 (checklist); ill. p. 23 (as Painting No. 49).

Faison, Lane S., Jr. Second Williams College Alumni Loan Exhibition. (exh. cat. Williams College Museum of Art). Williamstown, Massachusetts: Williams College Museum of Art, 1976. Ill. p. 45 (as Painting No. 49).

"Rot konstruiert" und "Super Table": Eine Schweizer Sammlung moderner Kunst, 1909-1939. (exh. cat., Kunstmuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland). Winterthur, Switzerland: Kunstmuseum, 1980. Text p. 68; ill. p. 69.

Atkinson, D. Scott et al. A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art. Edited by Terry A. Neff. (exh. cat., Terra Museum of American Art). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1987. Ill. p. 271, pl. T-162 (color).

Painting No. 50, Marsden Hartley. Collection Cameo sheet, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, February 1991. Ill. (black & white).

Clarkin, Maura A. "Marsden Hartley." Art Education (September 1992). Text p. 42; ill. p. 41.

Southgate, M. Therese. "The Cover." The Journal of the American Medical Association 268:17 (November 4, 1992): 2342. Text p. 2342; ill. cover (color).

McDonnell, Patricia. "'Indian Fantasy': Marsden Hartley's Myth of Amerika in Expressionist Berlin." North Carolina Museum of Art Bulletin XVI (1993): 50-64. Text p. 53; ill. p. 52, fig. 4 (black & white).

The Journal of the American Medical Association Pakistan 5, no. 7 (September 1993): cover. Ill. cover (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. and Paul J. Karlstrom. American Moderns, 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Ill. p. 43, pl. 16 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. and Paul J. Karlstrom. L'Amérique et les modernes, 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Ill. p. 43, pl. 16 (color).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. An American Point of View: The Daniel J. Terra Collection. Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2002. Text pp. 168, 196-97; ill. pp. 11 (color), 169 (color), 196 (black & white).

Bourguignon, Katherine M. and Elizabeth Kennedy. Un regard transatlantique. La collection d'art américain de Daniel J. Terra. Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2002. Text pp. 168, 196–97; ill. pp. 11 (color), 169 (color), 196 (black & white).

Kennedy, Elizabeth. "The Terra Museum of American Art." American Art Review (December 2002): 126–41. Text p. 132; ill. p. 139 (color).

McDonnell, Patricia. "Modern Art and National Identity, 1915–1935." American Art Review (August 2005): 136–39. Ill. p. 139 (color).

Corn, Wanda M. and Patricia McDonnell. The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915–1935. (exh. cat. Tacoma Art Museum) Tacoma, Washington: Tacoma Art Museum, 2005. Text p. 25; ill. p. 25, fig. 18 (color).

Saccoccia, Susan. "American Modernists: Breaking the Mold" Humanities 26, no. 4 (July/August 2005): 8–13. Ill. p.12 (color).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation. (exh. cat., National Museum of China, Beijing; Shanghai Museum). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. Text p. 194; ill. back cover (color), p. 211 (color).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation. (exh. cat., National Museum of China, Beijing; Shanghai Museum). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. (Chinese edition). Text p. 194; ill. back cover (color), p. 211 (color).

Art In America: 300 years of Innovation. Hong Kong: Wen Wei Publishing Co. Ltd, 2007. (in Chinese), Ill. p. 87 (color).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation. (exh. cat., The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. (Russian edition). Ill. back cover (color), p. 109 (color).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in the USA: 300 años de innovación. (exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum Bilbao). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. Ill. p. 150, back cover (color).

Tallack, Douglas. “Review Essay: Art as Diplomacy.” Journal of American Studies 42, no. 1 (April 2008): 141–145. Text p. 142.

Southgate, M. Therese. The Art of JAMA III: Covers and Essays from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago, Illinois: American Medical Association, 2011. Text pp. 124, 209; ill. opposite p. 124 (color).

Scholz, Dieter, ed. Marsden Hartley - Die deutschen Bilder. (exh. cat. Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin). New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2014. Text p. 205 (checklist); ill. p. 100 (color).

Scholz, Dieter, ed. Marsden Hartley: The German Paintings, 1913–1915. (exh. cat. Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin). New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2014. Text p. 205 (checklist); ill. plate p. 100 (color).

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