(Memory and Lonely Mood) Maine Landscapes (Marsden Hartley)


After long sojourns away from the place of his birth, Marsden Hartley returned to Maine in the last six or seven years of his life. Now on view at the Met Breuer, the exhibition Marsden Hartley’s Maine touches upon internationalism and regionalism, the meeting up of European modernism and American Transcendentalism in early to mid twentieth century American art. Over the whole thing broods the darkening confluence of landscape, memory, and mood. What adds to that distant auratic moodiness is the temporal stratification between today looking back towards an origin point of the American modernist tradition. Does that temporal divide improve upon the quality of the work? I’m including below in the slideshow the pictures that caught my eye. In his review, Holland Carter makes a mild complaint that the focus on Maine is too narrow a prism with which to view Hartley’s work. But I think that narrow focus on this singular place captures the dimming-light effect that carries through the work and its exhibition. American, the entire milieu in Maine is isolate and lonely. I’m citing Carter for his sense of the mood. You can read the complete review here:

“We return to our childhood home at our peril. The familiarity may be comforting; the contact with ghosts, consoling. But the inevitable, entropic pull back into old patterns of thinking and feeling we spend a lifetime trying to undo can touch off anxiety and despair. Many of Hartley’s late Maine paintings ride these mood swings. Their subjects may be “scenic,” but their atmosphere is fraught.

The tumbling woodland cascade in “Smelt Brook Falls” looks like a knot of twisted bedsheets. The floating cut tree trunks in “Logjam (Backwaters Up Millinocket Way No. 3)” could be a funeral pyre. The steeple in “Church at Corea” tilts as if about to fall. Waves breaking on rocks in “Evening Storm, Schoodic, Maine” rise like monsters from the deep. This is a Maine of fevers, fears and decrepitude, a place where all that is solid is fated to go away.”

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About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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