Although most of the American Scene painters rejected European modernism and radical abstract styles, Marsden Hartley embraced abstraction in his early years and found figurative painting near the end of his life. Born in Maine, Hartley had become part of Alfred Stieglitz's circle in 1910 and...
Although most of the American Scene painters rejected European modernism and radical abstract styles, Marsden Hartley embraced abstraction in his early years and found figurative painting near the end of his life. Born in Maine, Hartley had become part of Alfred Stieglitz's circle in 1910 and then spent several years traveling in Europe absorbing the modernist styles of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, and Wassily Kandinsky. Until 1937 when he resettled in Maine, Hartley traveled in avant-garde circles, moving frequently from place to place in Europe and America. After trying out different subjects and styles throughout his career, he ended up reaffirming his Americanism by painting landscapes in Maine, New Mexico, and Gloucester, Massachusetts. In 1940 he explored that most American of subjects: Abraham Lincoln. Between the world wars, Lincoln's reputation grew to epic proportions, in part because of Carl Sandburg's folksy biography of him. Hartley painted three portraits in homage to the Civil War president, and he also wrote two poems about him: "American Ikon-Lincoln" and "A. Lincoln-Odd, or Even." Hartley painted "The Great Good Man" near the end of his career. His portraits of Lincoln were among a series of images of his heroes, including the artist Albert Pinkham Ryder and the seventeenth-century English poet John Donne. Larger than life, "The Great Good Man" is bold and iconic. Basing his painting on an 1862 photograph of Lincoln by Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, Hartley employed Cézannesque brushstrokes to create the planes of the president's face and rough strokes of black paint to convey his features, including the mole on his cheek and his almond-shaped eyes. Although academically trained, Hartley appreciated American folk art, which enjoyed a revival of interest during the early twentieth century. The bold color contrasts and graphic strength of "The Great Good Man" recall similar qualities in folk portraits of the nineteenth century. The palette of black, white, flesh tones, and striking blue for the background, the heroic scale of the painting, and the intentionally crude technique combine to form a memorable image of Lincoln and a triumph for Hartley in the year before his death. This text was adapted from Davis, et al., MFA Highlights: American Painting (Boston, 2003) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Lower right: MH/42
The artist; with Babcock Gallery, New York; to William H. Lane (1914-1995), 1958; to MFA, 1990, gift of WIlliam H. and Saundra B. Lane and museum purchase.
Gift of William H. and Saundra B. Lane and The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund, by exchange
Marsden Hartley materials are reproduced with the permission of the Yale University Committee on Literary Property