The Painter of Maine: Photographs of Marsden Hartley

Bates College Museum of Art • Lewiston, ME • • Through October 17, 2015

By: Carl Little

55 01 173 f cd
Unknown Photographer, Untitled [Marsden Hartley], 1909, 55.01.173f.

In her 2005 study Marsden Hartley: Race, Region, and Nation, art historian Donna Cassidy offered a counter image to the loner-mystic profile commonly applied to the great modernist painter. For all the remoteness that surrounded him, Hartley (1877–1943) knew about marketing and strove to shape his brand, whether declaring himself “the painter of Maine” or adopting various styles and personas during his peripatetic life.

This exhibition traces that life. There is the 31-year-old Hartley seated on the banks of the Androscoggin River in his hometown of Lewiston, ME, looking like an introspective sport; seated awkwardly in the sand wearing jacket and tie at Cannes in 1925; and dressed in an L.L. Bean outfit in Corea, ME, where he lived out his final days.

Most of the portraits are by unknowns. The most notable exception is a series of studio shots of Hartley by George Platt Lynes (1907–1955), the fashion photographer, taken in 1938. Using dramatic lighting, Lynes captured the artist in a variety of poses, several of them featuring the predictable pensive visage (Hartley standing in overcoat and hat, umbrella at his side, a potential publicity shot for The Third Man). The artist is known to have complained that Lynes’s photographs made him look too “chi-chi.”

Through the voluminous literature on Hartley, we know the minutiae of his life, from chronic financial struggles to the tragedies of lost loves. This exhibition allows us to study a visage over time—the somewhat somber bow-tied man in Alfred Valente’s ca. 1941 portrait, the tight-lipped painter holding a cocker spaniel in his arms while visiting Cézanne country in southern France in 1929—and try to understand what made him tick.

Hartley was photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, Carl van Vechten and others (and is the subject of at least two portraits by Milton Avery). While it would have been nice to supplement the museum’s holdings with some of these iconic images (or a self-portrait), the selection is varied and highlights some of the treasures housed in the Hartley Memorial Collection and Archive at Bates.

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