Painted in 1938, White Hibiscus is an elegant example of Marsden Hartley's mature modernist style. Having first been introduced to European modernism by Albert Stieglitz at his 291 gallery in New York in 1912, Hartley quickly sailed for Paris where he embraced the works of Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, and Kandinsky. His work was well received by artists, critics, and collectors in Paris and Munich, notably Gertrude Stein and Kandinsky.
"Thus, after less than a year's exposure to the European art world, Hartley had begun to make a significant place for himself. His work not only exhibited the most avant-garde styles of painting and aesthetic theory, but it was at the same time both independent and personal. Hartley's unique amalgamation of Cubist structure, bright color, and mystical references created an original statement." (B. Haskell, Marsden Hartley, New York, 1980, p. 31)
Hartley continued to create important paintings for three decades, developing and perfecting his own unique style of American modernism. White Hibiscus, which Hartley painted after finally returning to his native Maine in 1937, demonstrates the hallmarks of the artist's greatest works. The vigorously painted surface is very physical and lush, while the composition itself is strong in its simplicity. Hartley's later works such as White Hibiscus have proved themselves to be among his most expressive and compelling paintings.