Mushrooms on a Blue Background
Mushrooms on a Blue Background

Mushrooms on a Blue Background

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)

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With its rapid brushwork and tilted perspective, this painting summons a strong sense of motion.

Hartley worked in France in the late 1920s, where he produced numerous still lifes.

The artist was a member of the Stieglitz Group of American Modernist artists.

Curatorial Summary

Born in Lewiston, Maine, Marsden Hartley studied art at the Cleveland School of Art and at William Merritt Chase’s New York School of Art and the National Academy of Design. By 1909 he had his first exhibition at Alfred Stieglitz’s New York gallery and became part of the dealer’s progressive circle of modernists that also included Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, and John Marin. He traveled to Europe in 1912 and worked in Germany, under the influence of Expressionism, and in Paris, where he met Gertrude Stein and was introduced to some important avant-garde artists. He experimented with Paul Cézanne’s style and created numerous still-life paintings that focused on decorative elements and structure.

Before he left Europe for the US in 1915, Hartley began to explore American subjects. Most notable were his Native American designs—works that gave him a distinct identity among the Expressionist artists in Germany. The symbolism and spirituality he found in his subjects became an important part of his life and art, resulting in some of his most powerful paintings. Later in his life, Hartley spent several years in the fishing village at Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia, where he did a series of portraits of the lobstermen. He also painted several religious subjects and returned to still lifes, adding seascape backgrounds.

In the late 1920s Hartley worked in France, where he renewed his fascination with the art of Paul Cézanne. During this period he produced many still lifes, including this unusual view of mushrooms tumbling against a blue background. With its rapid brushwork and tilted perspective, the painting summons a strong sense of motion.


Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin, ed. Marsden Hartley: American Modernist. Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2002.

Weber, Bruce. The Heart of the Matter: The Still Lifes of Marsden Hartley. New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 2003.

Bernard Dannenberg Gallery in New York; Mrs. Francis Phipp Mallek from the estate of the artist

Object Information

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)
creation date
oil on Masonite
15 x 18 in. (canvas)
mark descriptions
signed on verso and dated: 1929
accession number
credit line
The Robert and Traude Hensel Collection
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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