Landscape No. 5 is an expressionistic depiction of the American Southwest. It does not represent a specific location, but rather a combination of typical southwestern geographic features. A river runs through a canyon with mountains visible in the background. The scene has been stripped of any identifying details or evidence of human presence. The subdued palette consists of five colors: predominantly black, white, and green, enlivened by red and yellow. The emphasis on geometric forms, two-dimensionality, and the organic, if rather muted, colors recalls the work of
Though the scene has a somewhat bleak air, the artist was quite enthusiastic about his subject. From June 1918 to November 1919 Hartley lived in Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and he was enthralled by the southwestern landscape. He wrote that “any of these beautiful arroyos and canyons is a living example of the splendor of the ages . . . and I am bewitched with their magnificence and their austerity.” He completed a number of pastel and oil sketches of the landscape there, and larger oil paintings after he returned to New York. After relocating to Berlin, in 1923 Hartley commenced working on a group of approximately 35 southwestern landscapes that he described in a letter to his friend and fellow artist Alfred Stieglitz as “New Mexican landscape recollections.” Landscape No. 5 is an early example from this group. Though scholars have attributed Hartley’s desolate depictions of the southwestern landscape to his state of psychological unrest and isolation in Berlin, in his letter to Stieglitz he described them as “a certain coming toward repose” with “no intervention of private states of personal existence.”
In March 1918 Marsden Hartley wrote to Harriet Monroe, the editor of Poetry: “I am trying to get to the Southwest this summer, for various reasons, partly for health, but chiefly to do a lot of painting and writing in peace and quiet neither of which is to be found in New York.”
Hartley to Harriet Monroe, March 6, 1918, quoted in Dear Editor: A History of Poetry in Letters, ed. Joseph Parisi and Stephen Young (New York, 2002), 238.
Hartley to Harriet Monroe, November 13, 1918, quoted in Dear Editor: A History of Poetry in Letters, ed. Joseph Parisi and Stephen Young (New York, 2002), 240.
Hartley to Harriet Monroe, August 22, 1918, quoted in Barbara Haskell, Marsden Hartley (New York, 1980), 58.
I like the position and I like the results. As a painter, I am impressed with the fact that America as landscape is, one might rightly say, untouched. I am getting my cue solely from my sojourn in the watersheds of the Rio Grande. I hear hints all around me of painted deserts, canyons, cliffs, and cliff dwellings.
Marsden Hartley, “America as Landscape,” El Palacio 5, no. 21 (Dec. 21, 1918): 340.
In addition to working on still lifes featuring Mexican American folk altarpieces, or santos, Hartley made a number of literal views of the landscapes in pastel. He moved from Taos to Santa Fe in October and embarked on an extended visit to California in February 1919. He returned to Santa Fe in June and resumed work on some more naturalistic pastels and oil sketches of the local terrain before going back to New York in November. In early 1920 Hartley began working on a series of painted New Mexico landscapes based on his pastels and oil sketches and his memory of the area. Restless as ever, he became involved with the New York Dada movement and joined the Société Anonyme that had recently been founded by
Hartley initially stayed with the family of his old friend, the German sculptor
Art historians have often neglected to mention that Hartley intended the series to include the Texas landscape as well. In the same letter to Stieglitz he expressed his desire to evoke the Southwest, “especially the Texas aspects on the train from El Paso to Los Angeles,” and referred to the paintings as a “series of New Mexico & Texas landscape inventions.” Hartley to Alfred Stieglitz, April 28, 1923, quoted in Townsend Ludington, Marsden Hartley: The Biography of an American Artist (Boston, 1992), 163–164.
Considered as a group, the Recollections are a departure from the artist’s earlier, more literal New Mexico views.
Other examples of the Recollections series are Landscape and Mountains (1922–1923, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC), New Mexico Recollections No. 12 (1922-1923, Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin), and Landscape Fantasy (1923, Grey Art Gallery, New York University).
Barbara Haskell, Marsden Hartley (New York, 1980), 72.
Hartley to Alfred Stieglitz, May 28, 1923, quoted in Townsend Ludington, Marsden Hartley: The Biography of an American Artist (Boston, 1992), 164.
Hartley’s Recollections did not especially impress critics when they were exhibited at the Alfred Stieglitz Presents Seven Americans show at the Anderson Galleries in March 1925. Deogh Fulton, who reviewed the show for International Studio, observed that when Hartley “misses, which he does sometimes, the titles might be ‘Studies in Liver.’ There is little color and a great deal of pose in many of the canvases, but there are half a dozen, still-lives and landscapes, which make up for all the rest.” Evidently Fulton included Landscape No. 5 among that small group of successful pictures, because it was illustrated in the review.
Deogh Fulton, “Cabbages and Kings,” International Studio 81 (May 1925): 146.
Heather Hole, Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism (Santa Fe, NM, 2007), 126.
Many years later, in 1988, Gail R. Scott wrote: “These paintings, executed five thousand miles away from the Southwest and three or four years after he’d left it, were so audacious that they remained neglected or disparaged until a Neo-Expressionist perspective has recently yielded reevaluation of them.”
Gail R. Scott, Marsden Hartley (New York, 1988), 70.
Patricia Janis Broder, “Marsden Hartley: In Search of American Icons,” in The American West: The Modern Vision (Boston, 1984), 149.
Scholars have unanimously interpreted the somber quality of the Recollections as symptomatic of Hartley’s supposed state of psychological unrest during his stay in Berlin. Broder observed how the landscape elements “are transformed as if by a raging storm and echo the desolation and emotional turmoil of the artist, isolated and misunderstood in his own land.”
Patricia Janis Broder, “Marsden Hartley: In Search of American Icons,” in The American West: The Modern Vision (Boston, 1984), 146.
Gail R. Scott, Marsden Hartley (New York, 1988), 72.
Townsend Ludington, Marsden Hartley: The Biography of an American Artist (Boston, 1992), 161.
Jeanne Hokin, Pinnacles and Pyramids: The Art of Marsden Hartley (Albuquerque, NM, 1993), 49–50.
Bruce Robertson, Marsden Hartley (New York, 1995), 84.
Jonathan Weinberg, “Marsden Hartley: Writing on Painting,” in Marsden Hartley, ed. Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser (Hartford, CT, 2002), 133.
Heather Hole, Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism (Santa Fe, NM, 2007), 131.
If one can take Hartley’s own testimony at face value, he believed his Berlin works built upon the New Mexico subjects he had done in New York and that, set apart from his own personal emotions, they achieved a new degree of simplicity and resolution. In April 1923 he wrote to
These landscapes are more vivid in the sense of nature than they were when I worked from the same thoughts in N.Y. I have calmed down generally in composition and general effects—I think you’ll like the ‘simplicity’ of the new work—and a certain coming toward repose and thank heaven at least no intervention of private states of personal existence. I think they are for the first time in my life—almost without me in them.
Hartley to Alfred Stieglitz, April 28, 1923, quoted by Kristina Wilson in Marsden Hartley, ed. Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser (Hartford, CT, 2002), 288. See Heather Hole, Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism (Santa Fe, NM, 2007), 131, where she quotes part of this letter as an example of how Hartley seemed to be telling Stieglitz “what he thought he wanted to hear.”
Even taking into account Hartley’s peripatetic life and penchant for returning to past subjects, it is surprising that he commenced painting such an extensive series of southwestern landscapes in Berlin given the amount of time that had passed since he had left New Mexico. A degree of psychological angst can still be felt in the Recollections he made in Germany. But it may have been almost second nature for Hartley to employ the expressionist idiom considering his past close association with Der Blaue Reiter group and that he found himself once again working in Germany. But Hartley’s physical and experiential distance from the Southwest also allowed him to more coherently order his observations of the region’s remarkable natural phenomena. Working strictly from memory—as the series title Recollections emphasizes—without the aid of the pastel and oil sketches he had made on site, Hartley moved beyond his initial personal response to New Mexico to create powerful, transcendent works such as Landscape No. 5 that capture the spiritual essence of the Southwest.
August 17, 2018
Alfred Stieglitz [1864-1946], New York; by inheritance to his wife, Georgia O'Keeffe [1887-1986], Abiquiú, New Mexico; gift 1949 to NGA.
- Alfred Stieglitz Presents Seven Americans, The Anderson Galleries, New York, 1925, one of nos. 26-50, as New Mexico.
- Loan for display with permanent collection, Baum Gallery of Fine Arts, University of Central Arkansas, Conway, 1997-1998.
- Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, 2008-2009, unnumbered catalogue, fig. 101.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 64, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 170, repro.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: 216, repro. 226.
- Scott, Gail R. Marsden Hartley. New York, 1988: 70-72, pl. 53.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 194, repro.
- Kirsh, Andrea, and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. Materials and Meaning in the Fine Arts 1. New Haven, 2000: 264.
- Hole, Heather. Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism. Exh. cat. Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe. New Haven and Santa Fe, 2007: 112, fig. 101.