Born in Maine, Marsden Hartley felt a profound and poignant spiritual connection to the New England landscape, returning to the subject time and again throughout his career. This reverential bond is nowhere more evident than in his 1940s paintings of Mount Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine. This secluded peak inspired generations of artists and thinkers including Frederic Church, Henry David Thoreau and Theodore Winthrop. The latter extolled the granite behemoth, writing, "eminent and emphatic, a signal and solitary pyramid, grander than any below the realms of the unchangeable, more distinctly mountainous than any mountain of those that stop short of the venerable honors of eternal snow...the best mountain in the wildest wild to be had on this side of the continent." (as quoted in J. Hokin, Pinnacles & Pyramids: The Art of Marsden Hartley, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1993, p. 110)
Hartley visited Mount Kahtadin once, in September 1939, and wrote to Adelaide Kuntz of the mountain's powerful impact on him, "I have achieved the 'sacred' pilgrimage to Ktaadn [sic]. I feel as if I had seen God for the first time--I find him so nonchalantly solemn." (as quoted in K. Wilson in E.M. Kornhauser, ed., Marsden Hartley, New Haven, Connecticut, 2003, p. 322) Enthralled by the monumental peak, Hartley painted almost twenty depictions of Mount Katahdin from 1939 until 1942, capturing his majestic subject during various seasons and times of day. He wrote of his strong connection to the place, "I now know my own beloved Maine as I have never known it before, and I shall immortalize that mountain, as no one else has or likely will, as it is my mountain and I the 'official' portraitist of it." (as quoted in Marsden Hartley, p. 323)
Indeed, Hartley's reverence for Katahdin is evident in the present work, an evocative composition in which he captures the effects of a winter storm on the landscape. He has deliberately reduced the composition to its essence, omitting extraneous detail and depicting the profile of the mountain rising triumphantly, gallantly withstanding the elements as its permanence is juxtaposed with the ephemeral storm.
The solemn spirit of the landscape in hibernation is captured as the outline of the mountain is tempered and soft against the sky and the lake is barely visible through the blustering snow, which cloaks and partially obscures the landscape. The scene is a patchwork of subtly modulated purples and greens punctuated by the brighter hues of the trees at the mountain's base. Thin, energetic brushwork conveys the sensation of snow simultaneously blowing over and blanketing the landscape while the wind is evoked by the dynamic strokes of the trees and the broader, vigorous brushwork of the lake.
As with many of Hartley's best works, there is a loneliness and yearning that permeate the vast, solitary landscape of Mount Katahdin, Snow Storm. An inveterate traveler, Hartley spent much of his life seeking to rekindle the happiness that he had experienced in his first trip to Europe from 1912 to 1915. Time and again he eschewed urbanity for nature, believing that its spiritual and mystical properties would aid his quest for solace. Mountains in particular were a leitmotif of Hartley's career, one that began with the Maine hills of his early paintings and followed him throughout his travels to the American Southwest and Europe until his final, triumphant paintings of Mount Katahdin.