India’s only daily art newspaper

Exploring Marsden Hartley’s Bold Expressionism

Abhishek Kumar

All things that are living are expression and therefore part of the inherent symbology of life. Art, therefore, that is encumbered with excessive symbolism is extraneous, and from my point of view, useless art. Anyone who understands life needs no handbook of poetry or philosophy to tell him what it is.

Marsden Hartley
A photograph of Marsden Hartley

Marsden Hartley was a major American Expressionist painter who was known for his bold use of color and his unique style of portraiture. He is known for his bold and colorful works that often featured abstract shapes and bold colors. His works are often considered to be among the most influential and important of the American Expressionists. Hartley’s bold use of color and expressive brushstrokes make his works immediately recognizable. His works often explore themes of American identity, individualism, and the natural world. Hartley’s works often feature a unique combination of colors and shapes that are both bold and complex. His use of color was often quite experimental, and he was known to combine colors in unexpected ways. He was also known to use bright colors to create a feeling of vibrancy and energy.

Portrait of a German Officer by Marsden Hartley

Marsden Hartley was born on January 4, 1877 in Lewiston, Maine, United States to Thomas Hartley and Eliza Jane Hartley. Marsden studied at the Cleveland School of Art from 1892 to 1898. A school trustee was impressed by his abilities and offered him a five-year stipend to study painting in New York City. Hartley moved to New York City in 1898, and that same year he enrolled at the New York School of Art, which is now Parsons School of Design. A mentor to him was William Merritt Chase. Marsden studied at the National Academy of Design from 1900 to 1904.

SuperJumbo by Marsden Hartley

Hartley’s works, which often contain themes of nature, mysticism, and spirituality, reflect his interest in German Expressionism, Cubism, and Futurism. He also traveled to Paris, where he was exposed to the works of Picasso, Matisse, and other European avant-garde artists. Hartley’s paintings are often characterized by vivid colors, sharp lines, and flattened forms. He often used geometric shapes, such as circles, squares, and triangles, to create dynamic compositions. His work is often seen as a bridge between American and European modernism. Some of his most famous works include “Portrait of a German Officer” (1914), “Painting No. 3” (1939), and “The Great Good Place” (1939).

Berlin Series, No. 1 by Marsden Hartley

The painting Portrait of a German Officer is a great illustration of abstraction; it is obvious that Hartley drew inspiration from both German Expressionists and Picasso’s Cubism to create a portrait that suggests not just what Karl von Freyburg looked like but also who and what he was. The picture assembles a collection of actual items in a way that is reminiscent of Cubism, a style that was popularized by Pablo Picasso and his partner Georges Braque that included dismantling three-dimensional things and reassembling them on a two-dimensional canvas. Hartley’s use of vivid colours and energetic, linear patterns in the picture shows the influence of Kandinsky, who at the time was establishing a painterly language of pure form and colour intended to provoke spiritual and emotional responses from the observer. Hartley profoundly changed the character and purpose of the conventional portrait by using these new forms of abstraction to represent a person.

Purple Mountains, Vence by Marsden Hartley

Hartley was heavily influenced by both European and Native American art and culture. He often incorporated elements of both into his works, creating a unique blend of styles and subject matter. He also drew inspiration from the landscapes of his native New England. His works often feature symbolic scenes of nature, as well as abstracted figures and landscapes. The boldness and energy of Marsden Hartley’s Expressionism have made him an important figure in the history of American art. His works continue to be admired and studied by artists and art lovers alike. His works are widely considered to be among the most influential and important of the American Expressionists. Marsden Hartley’s bold Expressionist works remain some of the most powerful and emotional works of art. His works continue to inspire and challenge viewers to explore their own emotional depths. His bold use of color, form, and symbolism offer viewers a unique window into his worldview and his understanding of the human experience.

Musical Theme by Marsden Hartley


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsden_Hartley
  2. https://www.theartstory.org/artist/hartley-marsden/
  3. https://www.thoughtco.com/marsden-hartley-4771953