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Summer-Sea Window No. 1

On view

Summer-Sea Window No. 1

Artist: Marsden Hartley (American, 1877 - 1943)

Date: 1939-1940
Medium: Oil on cardboard
Dimensions:
Overall: 28 x 22 in. (71.1 x 55.9cm)
Framed: 36 3/4 x 31in. (93.3 x 78.7cm)
Signed: Verso: 'Summer-Sea Window #1, Marsden Hartley 1939-1940'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 72.37
Text Entries

Summer—Sea Window No. 1  is among the paintings Marsden Hartley executed after his return to his native Maine in 1937 following a career of peripatetic wandering in Europe and America. As with all of his work, notwithstanding its frequent shifts in style and subject matter, the painting exudes a strong emotional content arising from Hartley’s color and expressive paint handling. This sensuous presentation of paint had sustained his work throughout his career, insuring the success of his production even through less thematically convincing periods. By the time Summer—Sea Window No. 1 was executed, Hartley’s exploitation of rich, thick-bodied paint had reached an apotheosis. As he neared the end of his life, the physical act of painting became paramount for Hartley. He disavowed any interest in subject matter and openly claimed to want “the whole body, the whole flesh, in painting.”(1)

At the same time, the deep resonant color of Summer—Sea Window No. 1 imbues it with an intense spiritual grandeur reflective of Hartley’s emotional reconnection with the landscape of his childhood and his return to his early appreciation of spiritual concerns. Using thinly impastoed, fuzzy brushstrokes, he modulated his low-keyed palette of purples, maroons, and reds to create luminous color harmonies. Even the still-life motif, once considered by Hartley a means of escaping into moodless simplicity, assumes here a dignified gravity. Too, the image of a lone ship, which Hartley had employed earlier as a metaphor of the violence and unforgiving power of the sea, gives way here to a calm tranquility, a reconciliation between man and nature.

Hartley’s conjunction in Summer—Sea Window No. 1 of landscape and still-life motifs utilized a format he had experimented with as early as 1917 on a trip to Bermuda, when he had painted floral still lifes in front of an open window overlooking the sea. He briefly resuscitated the device in 1934-35 in a small group of paintings of Gloucester and, again, of Bermuda. But by 1940 his use of the motif had become frequent. Deriving from Matisse, it allowed him both to assert the two-dimensionality of the picture plane and to indulge in the sweep of perspective space visible through the window “baffles.” In Summer—Sea Window No.1 the contrast established between the geometric severity of the foreground elements—the window and table—with the organic landscape of the back- ground gives the composition a particularly effective structural dynamic. This painting, along with others from Hartley’s late period, unequivocally establishes him as one of America’s foremost expressionist painters.

 

Notes

1. Barbara Haskell, Marsden Hartley, exhibition catalog (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1980), p. 124.

Copyright
© Estate of Marsden Hartley, Yale University Committee on Intellectual Property