Off to the Banks, 1936
Oil on composition board
18 x 24 inches
Marsden Hartley was one of the earliest and most progressive American artists to embrace modernism. Born in Lewiston, Maine, he later settled in Cleveland with his family. He attended the Cleveland School of Art and completed further study at the Chase School and the National Academy of Design in New York.
After living in Europe in the early part of his career, Hartley spent two transformative periods in Nova Scotia in 1935 and 1936. His experience there would impact his work until his death in 1943. Hartley first visited Nova Scotia in the Fall of 1935, where he befriended the Mason family, consisting of the parents, Francis and Martha, sons Alty and Donny, and two daughters. Hartley developed an instant kinship with the family.
Hartley left Eastern Points for the winter, but returned again in July of 1936, planning to stay for six months. Just as Hartley renewed his relationship with the Masons and gained creative momentum, tragedy struck. On September 19, 1936, Alty and Donny Mason and their cousin Allen drowned at sea during a catastrophic storm. Hartley was completely devastated by this loss, much like after the death of his friend Karl von Freyburg in 1914.
The present work, Off to the Banks, is among the works that Hartley produced before he returned to New York in December 1936. With a rough, brushed surface, the white-capped waves dominate the foreground and threaten a lone ship. The ship appears diminutive in comparison to the force of the water and the expansive sky above, with its amorphous and dream-like clouds. Haunted by the magnitude of nature over man, the works Hartley created in the aftermath of this loss are among his most expressive and powerful works.