With its rigorous composition, bold brushwork and striking, exuberant color, New Hampshire Autumn Landscape--Hills and Trees exemplifies Marsden Hartley's New England landscapes of the 1930s. Returning from his second European sojourn in 1930, Hartley stayed in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, in the Franconia Valley.
During this period of his career, Hartley was determined to reintegrate himself into a country from which he had felt isolated and alienated. The artist enthusiastically ventured into New Hampshire, while at the same time carefully avoiding his boyhood home of North Lovell, Maine, which evoked bitter memories of loneliness and estrangement. There in New Hampshire Hartley set out to paint the mountains, spending time hiking, climbing and painting. Just as he had found Mount Sainte-Victoire in the south of France to be a continuous source of inspiration, so too did the White Mountains of New Hampshire provide an emotional lift that would serve his artistic and expressive needs.
"Through some friends, he rented a deserted house there for three dollars a week on Cooley farm, facing the western slope of the mountains he had painted from North Lovell. His first response to New England was enthusiastic. He and an unidentified Polish friend from Paris scrubbed the house and decorated it with geraniums, curtains, and a new tablecloth. Initially his letters were filled with ebullient descriptions of the wonderful pictorial motifs he had found in the chasms and boulders of the nearby Lost River region. . .' (B. Haskell, Marsden Hartley, New York, 1980, p. 80)
Hartley found in the New Hampshire mountains something inspiring at the most profound level. They provided for him a new way of seeing the American landscape. No longer hampered by the myths associated with the mountains of the south of France and the reputation of Paul Czanne, Hartley could explore his own vision of nature and its place within his own artistic expression.
New Hampshire Autumn Landscape--Hills and Trees reveals the artist's innovative painting technique that he rediscovered at this time. Short, parallel brushstrokes cover the composition and infuse the entire work with vitality and energy. Likewise the brilliant autumn palette of bold vermilions, tawny hues, and rich greens is unequalled by other modern painters of the era.
Hartley's enchantment with New Hampshire did not last, and by the time he returned to New York later in the fall of 1930 he was filled with anxiety about how works such as New Hampshire Autumn Landscape--Hills and Trees would be received by the community of artists, collectors and critics. Yet his fears proved to be unfounded, as the exhibition of the summer's work at Steiglitz's newly formed gallery, An American Place, would provide sufficient income for another year.