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Modern American Masterworks from the Ted Shen Collection

Crashing Wave, Vinalhaven

Crashing Wave, Vinalhaven
oil on board
18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 60.9 cm.)
Painted in 1938.
The artist.
Estate of the above.
Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York, 1944.
Babcock Galleries, New York, acquired from the above, 1957.
Sidney Levyne, Maryland, acquired from the above, 1957.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, 1968.
Dr. and Mrs. Harold Rifkin, New York, acquired from the above, 1969.
Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York, by 1985.
Jon and Barbara Landau, New York, acquired from the above, 1985.
Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2001.
Archives of American Art, Elizabeth McCausland Files.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 137th Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, January 25-March 1, 1942, no. 345.
Baltimore, Maryland, Baltimore Museum of Art, The Work of Three Outstanding Contemporary American Painters: Hartley - Intellectual, Cadmus - Satirist, Burchfield - Romanticist, July 1-September 3, 1942.
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Paintings by Marsden Hartley, April 4-30, 1955, no. 15.
New York, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Marsden Hartley: Paintings and Drawings, March 6-April 27, 1985, n.p., no. 31, 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. 30, 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.

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Lot Essay

In 1937, Marsden Hartley traveled to the Maine island of Vinalhaven, located 15 miles southeast of Rockland, while staying with Isabel Lachaise. He was immediately taken with the locale which reminded him of Nova Scotia, writing to Mrs. Lachaise that it was a “most beautiful place, quaint” which had “lots to paint” due to its direct ocean access. Deciding it would be his “next location,” Hartley returned in 1938 for the entire summer. (Marsden Hartley letter to Isabel Lachaise, October 18, 1937, Hartley-Isabel Lachaise letters, Lachaise Foundation) That November, he wrote his patron Adelaide Kuntz that he was “most happy” with how things went on the island. “I have a whole row of forceful sea pieces – two of them crashing seas on rocks and I am delighted with myself to come so near to the real thing and all so alive and spontaneous. I know it will make a lot of noise in N.Y. . . . at Walker’s place.” (Marsden Hartley letter to Adelaide Kuntz, November 7, 1937, Marsden Hartley Papers MSS 578, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut) Following in a long tradition of landscape painters in Maine, yet infusing the scene with a modern emphasis on direct, emotional manifestation, Hartley’s works such as Crashing Wave, Vinalhaven anticipate the emergence of Abstract Expressionism in the decades to come.

A Maine native, Hartley began his career with a series of local landscapes with a focus on short, energetic brushstrokes before traveling extensively to locales including Berlin, Paris, Santa Fe and Bermuda. Hartley returned to Maine in 1937 and set out famously to become “the painter from Maine.” Explaining his fascination with the trees and rocks of the area, Hartley once poetically wrote, “in them rests the kind of integrity I believe in and from which source I draw my private strength both spiritually and esthetically.” (as quoted in On Art, New York, 1982, p. 199) Looking to the Maine landscape for his primary inspiration, Hartley followed in the tradition of several nineteenth century American artists, including Fitz Henry Lane, Frederic Edwin Church and especially Winslow Homer. The emphasis on the overwhelming power of the ocean in Homer’s iconic Prout’s Neck paintings can be seen as a key influence on works such as Crashing Wave, Vinalhaven. Indeed, Hartley himself wrote in praise of Homer’s “Yankeeism of the first order” and his “fierce feeling for truth, a mania, almost for actualities.” (as quoted in “An Ambivalent Prodigal: Marsden Hartley as ‘The Painter from Maine,’” Marsden Hartley’s Maine, Waterville, Maine, 2017, p. 158)

Yet, while Homer remained firmly rooted in a careful attention to realism, Hartley expresses his spiritual appreciation for the Maine landscape through more visceral, gestural technique. The expressive, dark contours of Hartley’s work from this period have been likened to “drawing with paint.” Isabelle Duvernois and Rachel Mustalish explain, “His use of a palette knife to spread and score the paint as well as various other tooling techniques all suggest great gestural freedom, which he employed to make tangible the rugged terrain and unrelenting force of the elements.” (“’The Livingness of Appearances:’ Materials and Techniques of Marsden Hartley in Maine,” Marsden Hartley’s Maine, p. 118) Utilizing choppy, vertical brushwork in depicting the foaming, white-capped sea against the jutting rocks, he creates physical and psychological tension in the present work. Employing flattened forms with thick, black outlines, Hartley adds his characteristically unique monumentality in Crashing Wave, Vinalhaven.

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