Artist: Marsden Hartley (1877–1943)
Medium: Silverpoint on Paper
Size: 17 x 20 1/4 inches (43.2 x 51.4 cm)
Martin Sumers Gallery, New York;
Kraushaar Galleries, New York;
Private Collection, Pennsylvania.
Kraushaar Galleries, New York, Marsden Hartley, Drawings, 11 February - 11 March 2000, listed in checklist, reproduced p. 2. Exhibition traveled to Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York, 21 March - 28 May 2000.
Marsden Hartley’s drawings, more easily than his paintings, reveal a commonality and consistency in his artistic vision. They are not so positioned, so thought about; they render his motives and desires transparent. If one is looking for the essential Hartley, in the drawings one can begin to discern the outlines of the artist.
Shortly after completing the large group of drawings made in the winter of 908-9 in North Lovell, Maine, Hartley was introduced to the art of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. He learned the theoretical justifications for what he so clearly understood instinctively, that the role of the artist is to see beyond conventional surfaces and break down the usual understanding of how we think we see. Contour lines are made to be broken, perspective shifts to be upset, balance to be overthrown. The awkward agitation of Hartley’s eye, however, is his alone.
The 1920s were a period of great restlessness for the artist. But even as Hartley worked his way into a roadblock with his painting, drawing became an important way to discipline his eye. This is most evident in 1927, as he attempted to go back to ground zero, Cezanne, and build on a solid foundation. The drawings from this year are among his most graceful and satisfying.
In Peppers, Hartley suavely plays with the perspective and hatching devices of Cezanne. Slight differences in pressure on the stylus produce subtle gradations of shading. The peppers, and the cloth on which they lie, sprawl clumsily across the whole field of the composition, in no particular order. But the repetition of even hatching holds even their most knotted and complicated forms lightly in place.
For Hartley, the line is used form more than description; it embodies energy contained within the form that the artist relentlessly seeks to release and connect to. This is the force that drives Hartley’s art and is so apparent in his drawings.