This work is included in Gail R. Scott’s Marsden Hartley Legacy Project.
While in Berlin between 1923 and 1924, Marsden Hartley painted a powerful series of works that recall his sojourn in the American Southwest years earlier. Landscape with Single Cloud is one of these dreamlike, modern paintings collectively referred to as New Mexico Recollections. Evoking the unique spiritual meaning to be found within the hills of the Southwest, "In contradistinction to the earlier New Mexico works executed either in situ or while in New York, these paintings exude a brute force and dramatic vigor heretofore not encountered in Hartley's artistic vocabulary." (J. Hokin, Pinnacles and Pyramids: The Art of Marsden Hartley, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1993, p. 48)
Hartley first arrived in New Mexico in June of 1918 and was immediately inspired by the unique light and colors of the landscape, remaining for about eighteen months. He regarded the land as sacred and mysterious, writing that, "any one of these beautiful arroyos and canyons is a living example of the splendour of the ages...and I am bewitched with their magnificence and their austerity; as for the colour, it is of course the only place in America where true colour exists, excepting the short autumnal season in New England." (as quoted in B. Haskell, Marsden Hartley, New York, 1980, p. 58) Despite his prolific production in pastel and oil while in New Mexico, Hartley did not feel that he had truly captured the essence of the place and subsequently revisited the subject while in New York in 1920.
However, it was not until almost three years later in Berlin that Hartley was finally able to fully reconcile his relationship with the American Southwest. After focusing on other subject matter during much of his time in Germany, Hartley planned to visit the European countryside for new inspiration and told Alfred Stieglitz that he "revisited his memories of the vast New Mexican landscape in preparations for his pending change of scenery." (K. Wilson in E.M. Kornhauser, ed., Marsden Hartley, New Haven, Connecticut, 2002, p. 302) The resulting works, as epitomized by Landscape with Single Cloud, are strikingly emotive, abstracted compositions. As noted by Jeanne Hokin, "With a simplistic, almost abstract idiom, he eliminated all extraneous detail and reduced the New Mexico landscape to elemental, inchoate forms to convey the 'natural wave rhythms' of the primordial landscape of the American West." (Pinnacles and Pyramids: The Art of Marsden Hartley, p. 48)
Indeed, in Landscape with Single Cloud, Hartley delights in the undulating rhythm found in the bold outline of the rolling red hills and sculptural clouds of his remembered Southwest. The white and red swirls in the dark, looming sky create a cohesive pulse throughout the ominous composition. Abstracting and compressing the perspective of the environment, Hartley further emphasizes the windswept desolation of the land with thinly applied, curving brushstrokes that exude virility and expression. Heather Hole writes, “Much of the personal and psychological content is expressed in highly symbolic ways. The paintings are markedly unpopulated, empty of human beings, yet the symbolic objects and even the landscape itself come to represent and refer to those missing people.” (Marsden Hartley and the West: A Search for American Modernism, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 98) These dreamlike New Mexico Recollections were truly a catharsis for Hartley, who wrote to Stieglitz, "I have calmed down generally in composition & general effects--I think you'll like the 'simplicity' of the new work--and a certain coming toward repose & thank heaven at least no intervention of private states of personal existence. I think they are for the first time in my life--almost without me in them." (as quoted in Marsden Hartley, 2002, p. 304)
According to Gail Scott, the present work is comparable to Hartley's Landscape with Arroyo (1923) in the collection of the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas.