Marsden Hartley and Beyond
Born in Lewiston in 1877, Marsden Hartley is now considered to be one of the most important American modernist painters. Although critical success eluded him during his lifetime, he was an integral member of the circle of Alfred Stieglitz, a progressive photographer and dealer whose “291” gallery was a locus of vanguard artists in New York City. Hartley blended a number of artistic and literary interests into a unique body of work that shifted in response to cultural and political stimuli, often in advance of modernist trends. Painters Paul Cezanne and Albert Pinkham Ryder, poet Walt Whitman, and Transcendentalist writers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson were among his key influences. Equally important was the intense emotion Hartley felt toward the people and places that welcomed the lonely and eccentric artist. From impressionism, to abstraction, to expressionism, Hartley’s interest in regionalism remained constant, as he embedded himself in the life and culture of his many adopted homes. Although he left at a young age and traveled often, Maine remained a touchstone for Hartley, who declared himself “the painter from Maine” shortly before his death in Ellsworth, in 1943.
The Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection has served as a catalyst to developing one particular permanent collection strength, art by notable historic and contemporary Maine artists and artists with a connection to Maine. In addition to Hartley, the collection represents many artists associated with Maine, including Berenice Abbott, Amy Stacy Curtis, Charlie Hewitt, Alison Hildreth, Robert Indiana, Jocelyn Lee, William Manning, William Pope.L, Andrea Sulzer, Carl Sprinchorn, and Neil Welliver, among others. Many of these works of art were donated by Bates alumnae or members of the Lewiston-Auburn and Maine cultural communities.
Throughout the world Maine is celebrated as a place of great natural beauty draped in exquisite light. It has a deep and long tradition of painting and photography best known through the work of a group of artists including Ansel Adams, Thomas Cole, Walker Evans, Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, John Marin, Eliot Porter and Paul Strand, whose visits to the state created the enduring “picturesque” paradigm of Maine and Maine art. But today more and more diverse artists reside in Maine and their vision is changing how people “from away” perceive the state and its growing population of artists. These contemporary artists are changing the local and global perception of the artistic traditions of Maine, which is less and less based on the picturesque beauty of the state and more on its innovative spirit and the clarity provided by its light and environment.
These Maine artists like Hartley are challenging the subject matter, techniques and presentation expected of Maine art. Their success is changing the perception of the state as a place to visit to make inspired art to a destination where more and more contemporary artists live and work. Ironically these artists, such as William Pope.L, Sean Foley, Yvonne Jacquette, JoAnn Jones and Jocelyn Lee – recently entered into the museum collection – are spiritually more aligned with the unpicturesque and provocative Maine of Marsden Hartley, who is the backbone and spine of the Museum collection. Guided by the challenging and creative tradition of Hartley, the museum continues to build on its core collection of Maine artists.