Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)

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In the late 1920s Hartley painted in southern France where Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne had lived.

Melons reflects Cézanne's methods and approach in the parallel brushstrokes and the mountainous forms of the cloth.

Marsden Hartley and the Influence of Paul Cézanne

Born in Lewiston, Maine, Marsden Hartley studied art at the Cleveland School of Art, the Chase School, and the National Academy of Design. By 1909, he had his first exhibition at Alfred Stieglitz’s New York gallery and he 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, working 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 of modernism and created numerous still life paintings that focused on decorative elements and structure. Hartley returned to the United States to explore American subject matter. 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 lived and painted in Aix-en-Provence, the town in southern France where Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne spent much of his creative life. There, Hartley painted Melons, a still life that reflects his respect for Cézanne’s methods and approach. While the palette is Hartley’s, the careful, parallel brushstrokes, and the mountainous forms of cloth are indebted to Cézanne. Hartley’s painting is best appreciated through his statement: “I would rather be sure that I placed two colors in true relationship to each other than to have expressed a wealth of emotionalism gone wrong in the name of richness of personal expression.” Melons is a consummation of Hartley’s quest.

Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin. Marsden Hartley: American Modernist. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Judge Carden, a patron o f the arts. Mr. James Imbrie, Lawrenceville, New Jersey; purchased by the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in 1946.

Object Information

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)
creation date
about 1927
oil on canvas
19-5/8 x 24 in.
28-1/8 x 32 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of M. Knoedler & Company through Mrs. James W. Fesler
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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