Marsden Hartley 1877-1943
- Marsden Hartley
- Pueblo Mountain, New Mexico
- signed Marsden Hartley and dated 1918, Pueblo Mountain, N.M. l.r.
- pastel on paperboard
Georgia O'Keeffe, New York
Ida O'Keeffe, New York (her sister)
Knoedler & Company, New York and Babcock Galleries, New York, 1969
Private collection, New York, 1981
Babcock Galleries, New York, 2002
Menconi & Schoelkopf Fine Art, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2003
Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Kansa City, Missouri, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Marsden Hartley: A Retrospective, January 2003-January 2004, p. 115, illustrated in color
Houston, Texas, Houston Museum of Fine Arts; Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Modern West: American Landscapes, 1890-1950, October 2006-June 2007, p. 159, illustrated in color p. 160
Santa Fe, New Mexico, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum; Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for American Modernism, January-August 2008, p. 35, illustrated in color, detail p. 26
Marsden Hartley came to New Mexico in 1918 at the close of World War I. With his watershed German Officer and "Amerika" paintings, Hartley had been part of the major artistic revolutions towards abstraction that swept Europe before the war. He came home to the United States in 1915 due to food shortages, an abrupt and inconvenient disruption for Hartley and other artists. He claimed the war had destroyed 'the fetish of Paris' and sent him home, where he floundered, searching for both direction and conviction in his art, shifting restlessly from New York to Maine, from Bermuda and Provincetown to Ogunquit, and finally to the American Southwest.
Ultimately, Hartley's decision to go to New Mexico had nothing to do with its impressive landscape or its diverse cultures but because his perpetual financial troubles had forced him to find inexpensive living accommodations. Mabel Dodge Luhan, Taos' wealthy art patron whom Hartley had met previously in New York, encouraged him in his decision to visit Taos.
Within two days of his arduous train journey to Santa Fe, Mabel and her then husband Maurice Sterne brought Hartley to Taos. Since he had never learned to drive, Hartley was at the mercy of others for transportation, and often wandered the landscape by foot. Despite bouts of high altitude sickness, it did not take long for the countryside to work its magic on Hartley and shortly after arriving he wrote in a letter to his friend Arthur Plummer, "The country just outside of Taos is simply too beautiful, I have never seen anything so lovely in my life. It is not the kind of thing I thought I would see, for it looks as like Switzerland as anything can, these long chains of blue grey mountains, and the miles of sage-brush plains in front of them, with here and there rising out of the sage in the distance, clear blue hills standing along, mesas they call them in this land, ... the most beautiful little arroyos or canyons, very rocky on both sides, ... and over all this acres of blue sky; Well I give you my word, I have never seen anything lovelier in my life."
Feeling that the oil medium was not appropriate to capture the dry, arid landscape, Hartley's first artistic efforts were delicately sketched pastels of the desert in an abbreviated and simplified style. As Jeanne Hokin notes: "For Hartley the pastel medium enabled him to concretize the brilliancy of the desert light as well as the dry, dusty quality of the polychromatic hues. Although at first these pastels appear to be nearly literal, naturalistic transcriptions of the broad expanse of the Taos valley, an abstract quality does subtly isolate each form with a clarity that captures the peculiar light of the Southwest" (Pinnacles & Pyramids: The Art of Marsden Hartley, 1987, p. 39-40). Working rapidly out-of-doors, first with blue and green pastels, then later in brown tones when the weather changed, Hartley transcribed the shrubs, mountains, and arroyos of the desert with a higher degree of naturalism than he had attempted since his days as a student.
Heather Hole, curator of the recent exhibition Marsden Hartley and the West, concludes that Pueblo Mountain was executed on the Taos compound owned by Mabel Dodge Luhan. "The pastel is exceptionally literal," writes Hole. "Just as important, however, are the changes that Hartley has made to the landscape in his pastel ... The colors in Pueblo Mountain are extraordinarily vivid... Hartley does not simply want to record the landscape; he wants to record his sensation of the landscape, and his subjective experience of the luminous color and the massive mountains that he sees" (Marsden Hartley and the West, 2007, p. 53).
Despite Hartley's fascination with the beauty of the Southwest his personality and sense of self-importance ultimately proved to be too much for an extended stay. He did not get along with the Taos Society of Artists, noting in a letter to Stieglitz "They don't get me here. Say I am too terrific in my feelings." After a case of influenza broke out five months into his stay, he left Taos briefly and traveled to Santa Fe; just as quickly he grew tired of that city too, particularly eschewing the winters there. He longed for Germany, the anonymity of its crowded cities and the sense of participation the grand pageants had given him; he appears to have never felt more than a spectator when observing the local Indian ceremonies. Finally in November of 1919, Hartley left New Mexico for New York, never to return. In one of his final letters from the region to friend Rebecca Strand, he seemed happy to leave the area he referred to as another spelling of "chaos."