Conceived during "The Great Provincetown Summer" of 1916, Movement, Bermuda is one of the earliest and most advanced Cubist paintings produced in America. Marsden Hartley painted a series of related paintings at the lively artist's colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts from July through October 1916 and continued in Bermuda in the winter of 1916 to 1917 with Charles Demuth. During the war years, Provincetown became a desirable vacation destination when the conflict in Europe made travel abroad impossible. The colony consisted of New York's avant-garde cultural community of artists, writers, and actors, including Marguerite and William Zorach, Charles Demuth, and Eugene O'Neill. The personalities of these individuals formed a dynamic chemistry that Hartley found invigorating and inspiring.
It was in Provincetown and Bermuda that the artist embarked on a new body of almost purely abstract compositions, including Movement, Bermuda, inspired by the movements of sailboats. In contrast to the expressive, brightly-colored European works, which immediately precede Movement, Bermuda, the colors are muted and the forms are simplified into a powerful synthetic cubist composition. The reductive nature of the Movement Series is further underscored by the diminution in size of the pictures vis-á-vis his earlier European works. Movement, Bermuda represents a turning point in Hartley's career as he develops a more quiet, lyrical and poetic aesthetic. He wrote to fellow artist Carl Sprinchorn, "I want my work in both writing and painting to have that special coolness, for I weary of emotional excitement in art, weary of episode, of legend and of special histories." (as quoted in E. Kornhauser, Marsden Hartley, exhibition catalogue, New Haven, Connecticut, 2002, p. 20)
A formal exploration, Movement, Bermuda incorporates geometric planes of muted color to suggest the mast, hull and billowing sails of a boat. This acute reduction of abstracted elements was revolutionary for an American painting in the late teens. "Hartley was the most cosmopolitan painter of his time, and no perception of American provincialism could stay the power of his brilliant and enormously productive achievement during those years." (T. Ludington, Seeking the Spiritual: The Paintings of Marsden Hartley, exhibition catalogue, Ithaca, New York, 1998, p. 34)
The present work is one of 117 paintings sold by Hartley through the Anderson Galleries in May 1921 to fund a return trip to Europe. Forced to leave his beloved Germany in December 1915 due to the pressures from the war, Hartley had been yearning for a return trip to Europe ever since. The auction proved successful earning him almost $4,000 and he left for Berlin shortly thereafter. In Hartley's words, "the auction was a novel affair. It had never been done before with modern pictures...Everybody came to the exhibition--hundreds and hundreds during the almost two weeks...It was considered by everyone a triumph." (Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997, pp. 103-04)
The Movement Series, completed in Provincetown and Bermuda from 1916 to 1917, marked Hartley's final experimentation with pure abstraction. His shift from the symbolist Expressionism of the German Officer series to the subdued Cubism of Movement, Bermuda was followed by the return of figurative elements in his art. The rapidity of these changes in style demonstrates Hartley's belief that, "Modern art must of necessity remain in the state of experimental research if it is to have any significance...I believe that it is more significant to keep one's painting in a condition of severe experimentalism than to become a quick success by means of cheap repletion." ("Art and the Personal Life," Marsden Hartley: A Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1969, pp. 30-1) It was this continual experimentation and innovation that makes Hartley one of the most rigorously innovative American artists of the twentieth century.