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Modern American Masterworks from the Ted Shen Collection


signed 'Marsden Hartley'' (lower right)
oil on board
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1916-17.
The artist.
Anderson Galleries, New York, 17 May 1921, lot 50a, sold by the above.
Robert and Nancy Laurent, acquired from the above.
Estate of the above, 1970.
Parke-Bernet, New York, 11 December 1970, lot 74, sold by the above.
Hudson D. Walker, New York, acquired from the above.
Babcock Galleries, New York, 1970.
Mr. & Mrs. Michael Heron, Denver, Colorado, acquired from the above, 1973.
Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2001.
Archives of American Art, Elizabeth McCausland Files.
H. Kramer, "Delaware Museum Show Updates the Avant-Garde," The New York Times, April 23, 1975, illustrated.
G.R. Scott, Marsden Hartley, New York, 1988, pp. 60-61, pl. 43, illustrated.
Wilmington, Delaware, Delaware Art Museum, Avant-Garde Painting and Sculpture in America 1910–1925, April 4-May 18, 1975, pp. 83, 173.
Syracuse, New York, Everson Museum of Art, Provincetown Painters, April 1-June 26, 1977, p. 162, illustrated.
Greenvale, New York, Long Island University, C.W. Post Art Gallery, Marsden Hartley 1877-1943, November 6-December 14, 1977, pp. 11, 32, no. 9, illustrated.
Provincetown, Massachusetts, Provincetown Art Association, Founders of an Art Colony: The Beginnings of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, July 14-October 29, 1989.
Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Kansas City, Missouri, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Marsden Hartley, January 17, 2003-January 11, 2004, pp. 3, 94, 96, 111, 132, 299-300, no. 29, illustrated.
Further details
This painting is included in The Marsden Hartley Legacy Project: Complete Paintings and Works on Paper, with Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, Maine. We are grateful for Gail R. Scott’s assistance with the cataloguing of this work.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

In 1916-17, Marsden Hartley produced some of the most abstract paintings of the era during visits to the thriving artist’s colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the tropical island of Bermuda. Exploring the Cubism he witnessed while abroad in Europe from 1912-15, Trixie belongs to this series of paintings inspired by the movement of sailboats on the ocean. Among his most accomplished of the series, the present work embodies Barbara Haskell’s declaration, “Hartley’s Synthetic Cubist works of the Provincetown summer were not only comparable to those being executed in Europe, but they would not be equaled by another American artist for ten years.” (Marsden Hartley, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1980, p. 55)

Hartley was invited to the flourishing intellectual and artistic community of Provincetown by the writer John Reed. He remained there from July through October 1916, working alongside artists Marguerite and William Zorach and Charles Demuth as well as the playwright Eugene O’Neill. As the Boston Globe reported on August 27, 1916, “Provincetown has probably the biggest art colony in the world at the present time,” and the personalities formed a dynamic chemistry that Hartley found invigorating and inspiring. He would later write that it was "surely the biggest summer that most of us have lived through." (Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997, p. 94) Hartley sailed with Demuth to Bermuda for the winter of 1916-17, where he continued working on his Provincetown-style compositions.

Incorporating geometric planes of color to suggest the mast, hull and billowing sails, Trixie likely refers to a sailboat Hartley saw in either Provincetown or Bermuda. While the shapes in the right of the composition recall the houses in Movement No. 5, Provincetown House (1916, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Hartley employed similar use of the written word in a Bermuda painting titled Elsa (1917, Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota), which was inspired by a Danish ship docked in Bermuda during the winter of 1916-17.

The Provincetown and Bermuda paintings of 1916 and 1917 represent a marked departure from the expressive and brightly-colored European works that directly precede them. Yet, while based on observations in nature, the compositions are largely minimized into vertical arrangements of flat planes of cool, muted colors. As Hartley 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)

Trixie is among the most dynamic and vibrant works of the Bermuda and Provincetown paintings. Amy Ellis writes, “Trixie employs a more colorful palette, using a warm reddish orange tone with yellow, and an arrangement of forms that make up the hull, sails and pennant in such a way as unmistakably to suggest a boat…Hartley’s brushwork in Trixie is more varied and more discernable but continues to show the restraint of the Provincetown Movement paintings…there is still a ‘coolness’ to this painting and the other Bermuda works that makes them stand apart from the rest of Hartley’s career, before or after.” (“‘The Great Provincetown Summer’: The Impact of Eugene O’Neill on Marsden Hartley,” Marsden Hartley, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London, 2003, p. 96)

Kristina Wilson also notes “Hartley observed the play of geometries in nature, then abstracted them and transformed them into a set of formal explorations….The irregular trapezoids of pink yellow and black in Trixie are pulled in tight to the mast, and listing the stern of the boat, adorned with the bold letters ‘TRIXIE,’ puts the entire composition in a state of precarious balance.” (K. Wilson, “Catalogue Entries,” Marsden Hartley, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London, 2003, pp. 299-300) This acute reduction of abstracted elements was revolutionary for an American painting in the late 1910s. As Barbara Haskell explains, “With a vocabulary of arcs and triangular forms derived from sailboat motifs, these paintings constitute Hartley’s most radical venture into non-objectivity. The flatness toward which he had worked earlier is now complete; each area of the canvas occupies the surface plane with equal intensity.” (Marsden Hartley, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1980, p. 55)

By explicitly spelling out the work’s title—TRIXIE—with bold paint at the lower register of the composition, Hartley further emphasizes his interest in art and the written word. A writer and poet himself, Hartley used words, symbols and numbers throughout his artistic career. Hartley was likely inspired to employ this motif after seeing the Cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso at the home of Gertrude and Leo Stein, whom he first visited in 1912. Indeed, after seeing one work by the Spanish master, he sketched out a painting from memory to illustrate the effect in a 1912 letter to Alfred Stieglitz. Other American Modernists, including Stuart Davis and Charles Demuth, also used the written word in some of their most accomplished compositions. In using a combination of abstract forms and nomenclature to depict a physical object, Trixie arguably anticipates Pop artists such as Andy Warhol’s transformation of post-war advertising into some of the most iconic images of the 20th century.

Hartley’s Provincetown and Bermuda paintings from 1916 to 1917 marked Hartley's final experimentation with pure abstraction. His shift from the symbolist Expressionism of the German Officer and Amerika series to the subdued Cubism of Trixie 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 repetition." ("Art and the Personal Life" in Marsden Hartley: A Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1969, pp. 30-31) It was this continual experimentation and innovation that distinguishes Hartley as one of the most important American artists of the twentieth century.

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