This bright painting sets 6 red flowers on top of their leaves on a prink background. The lovely picture is bright and landscape style.

Marsden Hartley

Marsden Hartley was one of the earliest and most progressive American artists to embrace modernism. The artist was born as Edmund Hartley to English immigrants in Lewiston, Maine. Hartley’s childhood was shaped by loss with the early passing of his mother and the abandonment by his father. He eventually rejoined his family in Cleveland and adopted his stepmother’s surname as his first name. Despite these events, Hartley’s artistic talent was apparent and he would find great patrons and sponsors to propel his career. In 1898, Hartley received a scholarship to attend the Cleveland School of Art. He was awarded funding for further study at the Chase School and the National Academy of Design in New York.

Hartley’s work attracted the attention of influential photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, whose famous 291 Gallery launched the careers of many American modernists, such as Arthur Dove, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, and Charles Demuth. Stieglitz gave Hartley two solo exhibitions at his gallery, and provided support for his first trip to Paris in 1912. In Paris, Hartley experimented with Cubism and other modernist styles and quickly became recognized as a leading avant-garde painter.

In the spring of 1913, Hartley relocated to Berlin, where he remained for two years. His experience in Germany was transformative; Hartley was fascinated with German art and culture, and with the pageantry of the German military in its vibrant motifs and symbols. In Germany, Hartley met Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky and his circle of artists in Der Blaue Reiter, a pioneering group of artists that advocated for abstraction rooted in spirituality. Hartley developed a new style using symbols, religious motifs, and numbers in response to these ideas, which he called “cosmic cubism.”

After a lifetime of travel, Hartley returned to his New England roots in the last years of his life, proclaiming himself a “painter from Maine.” His home state was an integral aspect of Hartley’s career and identity. He portrayed the landscapes, objects, and people of Maine in paintings throughout his career, and especially between 1940 to 1943, when he spent a few months each year living in Corea, a small coastal fishing village. The last years of his life were marked with dynamism and success; in February, 1942 he exhibited at the prestigious Paul Rosenberg Gallery in his first solo show, which garnered financial and critical success. Later that year in December, he won fourth purchase prize in an exhibition “Artists for Victory,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when they acquired the late masterwork Lobster Fisherman.

The present work, Red Flowers on Pink Ground, is among a group of vibrant still life compositions of richly-saturated roses from Hartley’s late oeuvre. The painting depicts a small bouquet of red roses laid flat on a surface. The tight cluster of flowers are framed by emerald green leaves that contrast with the painterly pink background. Hartley often imbued symbolism into his still life paintings, and the floral subject may represent a memorial, or symbols of death. Hartley tragically lost two close friends from the Mason family who drowned off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1936. The artist attended the annual Fisherman’s Memorial Service in Nova Scotia after the drowning, where funerary wreaths of roses were cast into the sea. Several paintings of vibrant red roses followed this event. The Mason deaths continued to haunt Hartley long after, and many landscapes, portraits, and figurative paintings in the following years paid tribute to their memory.


Marsden Hartley

Red Flowers on Pink Ground, 1943
Oil on masonite
9 3/4″ x 24″
Signed and dated lower right


Charles F. Iklé
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift from the above, sold Sotheby’s, New York, September 23, 1993, lot 238, (estimate  $250,000-$350,000; unsold)
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale
Sotheby’s, New York, May 23, 2007, lot 39
Michael Altman Fine Art and Advisory Services, New York, acquired from the above after the auction
Mary Anne and Eugene A. Gargaro, Jr. Collection, Grosse Point Shores, Michigan, acquired from the above in the summer of 2007