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Modern American Masterworks from the Ted Shen Collection

On the Beach

On the Beach
oil on masonite
22 x 28 in. (55.9 x 71.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1940-41.
The artist.
Estate of the above.
Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York, acquired from the above, 1946.
Wright Ludington, Santa Barbara, California, acquired from the above, 1946.
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 29 April 1976, lot 183.
Maurice and Suzanne Vanderwoude, New York, acquired from the above.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, acquired from the above, 1984.
Jon and Barbara Landau, New York, acquired from the above, 1984.
Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York, 1999.
Michael Altman Fine Art & Advisory Services, LLC, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2002.
Archives of American Art, Elizabeth McCausland Files.
D. Brian, "The Passing Shows: Hartley," Art News, vol. 41, March 1942, p. 27.
H. Goodman, "Marsden Hartley," Arts Magazine, vol. 52, April 1978, p. 19, illustrated.
R. Hobbs, Milton Avery, New York, 1990, pp. 108-09, fig. 11, illustrated.
R. Berlind, "Hartley’s Indicative Objects," Art in America, November 1, 2003, p. 150, illustrated.
A. Pooth, "On Stories and Codes, Myths and Passions: Marsden Hartley in New England and Berlin," From Hopper to Rothko: America's Road to Modern Art, New York, 2017, pp. 67-68, fig. 11, illustrated.
Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Institute of Arts, Advance Trends in Contemporary American Art, April 4-30, 1944, no. 46.
San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Art, and elsewhere, A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by Marsden Hartley, May 1948-1951.
Greenvale, New York, Long Island University, C.W. Post Art Gallery, Marsden Hartley 1877-1943, November 6-December 14, 1977, pp. 27, 33, no. 40, illustrated.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago; Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum; Berkeley, California, University Art Museum, Marsden Hartley, March 4, 1980-January 4, 1981, pp. 128, 220, no. 94, pl. 60, illustrated.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., The Art of Collecting, March 23-April 21, 1984, p. 61, no. 45, illustrated.
New York, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Marsden Hartley: The Late Figure Works, June 4-30, 1990, n.p., no. 13, illustrated.
New York, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, A Gallery's Perspective: Modernist Painting and Sculpture in America: The Past 25 Years at Salander-O'Reilly, November 4-December 4, 1999, n.p., no. 32.
San Francisco, California, Hackett Freedman Gallery, Marsden Hartley: Observation and Intuition, February 1-March 31, 2001, pp. 8, 23, cover illustration.
Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum; Kansas City, Missouri, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, Marsden Hartley: American Modernist, January 17-April 20, 2003, pp. 231, 319, no. 82, illustrated.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, American Legends: From Calder to O'Keeffe, December 22, 2012-June 9, 2014.
New York, James Reinish & Associates, Inc., Paintings, Sculpture, Works on Paper, November 2014, pp. 50-51, illustrated.
New York, The Met Breuer; Waterville, Maine, Colby College Museum of Art, Marsden Hartley's Maine, March 20-November 12, 2017, pp. 122-27, fig. 116, illustrated.
Humlebæk, Denmark, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Marsden Hartley: The Earth is All I Know of Wonder, September 19, 2019-January 19, 2020, pp. 7, 15-16, 104, 138, no. 90, 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

Combining the best of Marsden Hartley’s powerful figural compositions with dynamic seascape, On the Beach is a masterwork of the artist’s mature career. A constant innovator, Hartley continued to refine and re-engage with styles and forms of expression throughout his life—a trait which earned him a legacy as one of the foremost modern American masters. One of only three 1940s figural paintings the artist completed at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, including Canuck Yankee Lumberjack at Old Orchard Beach, Maine (1940-41, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.), On the Beach ranks among the most celebrated of his figural compositions.

By the time Hartley completed On the Beach, he held a well-established relationship with the state of Maine—one that he returned to for consistent inspiration. Born in Lewiston, Maine, Hartley began his career with a series of Maine landscapes composed of short, stitch-like brushstrokes that emphasize texture, pattern and a planar approach to space. These early Maine landscapes importantly captured the attention of the pioneer photographer and Modernist dealer Alfred Stieglitz, starting one of the most formative relationships of Hartley’s career. Stieglitz gave Hartley his first one-man show at his gallery “291” in May of 1909, Exhibition of Paintings in Oil by Mr. Marsden Hartley of Maine. He also introduced the young artist to the work of European avant-garde artists, such as Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. After extensive travels as widespread as Berlin, Bermuda and Santa Fe, Hartley returned to his home state in 1937 with the goal of becoming “the painter from Maine.” While his earlier compositions focused on the inland areas of Maine, he expanded his output to include the rocky coastlines of locales such as Vinalhaven and Georgetown, rendered in an alternate style featuring broader strokes and bold outlines.

During this period in the late 1930s, Hartley also introduced figuration into his practice for the first time. When Hartley first debuted these figurative works to audiences in 1939 at Hudson Walker’s Gallery, he received glowing praise, with the Time magazine critic calling them “Something of a hit.” Margaret Bruening from the Magazine of Art noted, “Mr. Hartley has recently gained a much greater freedom, the ability to express something of the emotion that used to seem to struggle for expression in his painting.” (as quoted in Marsden Hartley, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London, 2003, p. 207)

Among the paintings that embody this most are a select group of only three paintings featuring the beach at Old Orchard Beach, which brilliantly combine the artist’s dramatic Maine seascapes with his celebrated figure paintings. In addition to the present work, this includes Canuck Yankee Lumberjack at Old Orchard Beach, Maine (1940-41, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.) and The Lifeguard (1940, Private Collection). A related sketch is also in the collection of the Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, Maine.

By the time Hartley painted his Old Orchard Beach works, the area was one of the most popular tourist destinations on the East Coast. Its combination of sandy beach—a rarity for the typical rocky coasts of Maine—combined with numerous attractions, amusement parks and entertainment drew a wide audience of tourists, ranging from immigrant workers of Southern Maine to French-Canadian tourists. Most pertinent to Hartley and On the Beach, Old Orchard Beach was known as the “Coney Island of New England” for its liberal atmosphere where romance and overt sexuality were on public display. Donna Cassidy explains, “It is this seaside sensuality that Hartley fixates on in his many drawings and paintings of Old Orchard Beach…Through such works, Hartley links Old Orchard Beach with sexual promiscuity, sensuality and moral laxity—qualities also associated with New York’s Coney Island and paintings of this pleasure spot, such as Reginal Marsh’s Coney Island Beach and Paul Cadmus’ Coney Island.” (Marsden Hartley: Race, Region and Nation, Durham, New Hampshire, 2005, pp. 72-73)

As seen in On the Beach, evident in many of Hartley’s later figurative works are his striking depictions of hyper-masculine working-class men. Randall R. Griffey explains, “Together, they constitute a fraternity of stoic, often solitary, rural hunks—lobster fishermen, lumberjacks, and athletes. The men in Hartley’s paintings have awkward, unnaturally constructed, blocky bodies that assert a hyper physicality, a quality enhanced by the absence of extraneous details in the spaces they inhabit. Hartley’s decidedly anti-academic, intentionally unrefined technique imbues the figures with an alluring combination of toughness and tenderness, an unconventional sensuality that renders them immediate yet remote.” (R. R. Griffey, “An Ambivalent Prodigal: Marsden Hartley as ‘The Painter from Maine,’” Marsden Hartley’s Maine, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London, 2017, p. 127) Other major works of this nature from this period include Lobster Fishermen (1940-41, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Flaming American (Swim Champ) (1939-40, Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland) and Madawaska—Acadian Light-Heavy (1940, Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois).

Scholars have long considered Hartley’s late figurative paintings of male bodies to be related to his own homosexuality. However, On the Beach is unique within this category due to his addition of a female figure—a motif possibly employed to make his painting more accessible to a wider audience despite its homosexual undertones. Randall R. Griffey explains, “Hartley’s ultra-masculine male figures would have been received in close proximity to the same cultural codes that governed images of the male body tied to the militarization of American culture. In fact, the painter seems in certain instances to have gone to extra efforts to ensure the reception of his male subjects as heterosexual, most obviously in On the Beach, in which a male bather is accompanied by a female companion. Saturated with identifiable signs of masculinity, Hartley’s late figure paintings could thus pass in spite of their homoerotic content.” (R.R. Griffey, “Encoding the Homoerotic: Marsden Hartley’s Late Figure Paintings,” Marsden Hartley, p. 218)

As a result of his expressive, vigorous application, in On the Beach, Hartley perfectly evokes the harsh majesty of nature combined with a potent figural presence filled with emotional power. “As Charmion von Wiegand observed in her glowing review of [his] 1940 exhibition with Hudson Walker: ‘Hartley’s craftsmanship has the conscientious sincerity and simplicity of a Maine woodsman who hews, peels and erects his logs from the forest for a safe and sturdy shelter.’ And indeed, Hartley’s late paintings pulsate with a vibrant, audacious directness that reflects authentic expression and a deep connection to his subject. Composed to be unartful, filled with irregular, non-naturalistic, but still recognizable, forms often with heavy black outlines that reinforce their power, the late images of Maine are unpretentious yet grand—everyday, but epic in scope and meaning.” (R.R. Griffey, “An Ambivalent Prodigal: Marsden Hartley as ‘The Painter from Maine,’” Marsden Hartley’s Maine, p. 106)

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