Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)
Fisherman's Family, ca. 1943
Oil on canvas 40 in. x 30 in. (101.6 cm x 76.2 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Herzl and Betty Friedlander1976.15
Marsden Hartley was an important member of the circle surrounding photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s New York City galleries, a group that also included painters Arthur Dove, John Marin, and Georgia O’Keeffe, along with photographer Paul Strand. Stieglitz met the artist in April 1909 and was so impressed by Hartley’s Impressionist paintings of the mountains of Maine that he granted him a solo exhibition. Hartley received early artistic training in Cleveland, Ohio, then moved to New York in 1899, enrolled at the Chase School, and later attended the National Academy of Design. He lived abroad from 1912 to 1915, settling first in Paris and then Berlin. In Berlin, he painted abstractions based on militaristic and mystical themes and produced a well-known series of “portraits” of German officers. These abstractions proved unpopular in New York and so, upon his return to the United States, he retreated from his radical style and created simplified still-life and landscape paintings. Hartley added the human figure to his repertoire late in his career, roughly six years before his death. This painting depicts the family of Francis Mason in Nova Scotia. In the summers of 1935 and 1936, the chronically ill and depressed Hartley found some happiness while staying with the Mason family. He was particularly fond of the Mason boys, Alty and Donny. The drowning of the two brothers and their cousin in the summer of 1936 left Hartley emotionally devastated. Following the loss of his friends, Hartley meditated on their deaths through numerous paintings such as this one, which combines both living and posthumous portraits in the same image.