American painter Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) lived in Europe from 1913 to 1915. After spending some time in Paris and Munich he moved to Berlin, where he painted his most impressive works. Hartley was associated with Herwarth Walden’s Sturm gallery and participated in its 'First German Autumn Salon’ in 1913, which featured numerous international artists.
Immediately prior to and after his Berlin years, Hartley cultivated a style of painting that was moderately figurative, however the years 1913 to 1915 marked an apogee of abstraction in his career. During these years he developed a completely independent vernacular, which placed him at the forefront of the avant-garde of the time. His paintings from this period literally explode off the canvas, they are composed of bright, starkly contrasting colours that directly border one another. The theme around which these works revolve is the First World War. Flags, military standards and insignia such as the Iron Cross form recurring motifs in the paintings.
Hartley’s relationship with the Prussian Officer Karl von Freybourg, who died just months after the outbreak of war, led to Hartley producing such masterworks as 'Portrait of a German Officer’ (1914, Metropolitan Museum, New York), in which abstract forms and military paraphanalia are so densely interwoven that the resulting portrait is composed purely of symbols.
Hartley is completely unknown in Germany and has yet to be discovered as a bold representative of modern art. An exhibition focusing on Hartley’s Berlin works is long over due and presents a rich area for research. The organizers plan to identify, locate, and photograph all paintings made in Berlin and include them in the catalogue. A selection of these works will form the centrepiece of the exhibition, accompanied by works from his earlier and later periods to contextualize his Berlin period within his oeuvre as a whole and illustrate the immense stylistic leap they represent.
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