Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) Landscape No. 39 (Little River, New Hampshire) 23 7/8 x 19 5/8in (Painted in 1930.)

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Lot 12
Marsden Hartley
Landscape No. 39 (Little River, New Hampshire) 23 7/8 x 19 5/8in

Sold for US$ 1,387,500 inc. premium

American Art

24 May 2017, 10:00 EDT

New York

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)
Landscape No. 39 (Little River, New Hampshire)
bears inscription 'New Hampshire / 1910 / Landscape #39 / Estate #81 - / Marsden Hartley' (on the reverse)
oil on board
23 7/8 x 19 5/8in
Painted in 1930.


  • Provenance
    The artist.
    Estate of the above.
    Babcock Galleries, New York, 1957.
    ACA American Heritage Gallery, New York.
    Bernard Danenberg, New York.
    Sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, December 12, 1975, lot 126.
    Mr. Robert Rau, New York, acquired from the above.
    By descent to the present owner.

    We wish to thank Gail R. Scott for her assistance cataloguing this lot.

    Marsden Hartley maintained a lifelong connection to New England. Born in Lewiston, Maine, in 1877, the formative years of his career kept Hartley living and working in Maine intermittently between various artistic explorations of the Eastern Coast. Finally, in 1912, the artist made his first excursion abroad, which began an important shift in his artistic theory and practice, leading to his residency there for the next two decades.

    By 1930, Hartley was relieved to be returning to New England. After spending a nearly ten-year period, from 1921 to 1930, primarily in Europe, Hartley grew weary and eventually embraced the encouragement to return to the states. His supporters, including his mentor Alfred Stieglitz, and two prominent art critics of the day, Paul Rosenfeld and Waldo Frank, persuaded the artist to return and revisit the American subjects his audience favored. With resolve, Hartley arrived in June of 1930, deciding on a spot in New Hampshire in the Franconia Valley of the Lost River region. (G.R. Scott, Marsden Hartley, New York, 1998, pp. 73, 87) His adjustment to New Hampshire came slowly, he first met the change with resistance and bemoaned the isolation he felt in the remote town but soon he relinquished and found inspiration in the landscape that surrounded him.

    According to Gail R. Scott, the present lot, Landscape No. 39 (Little River, New Hampshire), is one of approximately twenty-six paintings the artists produced during the summer and fall of 1930 while Hartley lived and worked in the region surrounding Franconia, New Hampshire. The present lot is one among five identified paintings completed along Little River. Three of these works from this series exist in private collections and the fourth is in the collection of the Colby College Museum of Art, in Waterville, Maine, titled Brilliant Autumn, Landscape No. 28.

    All five of these works illustrate the same crowded composition – alternating between horizontal or vertical format – a shallow river is seen surrounded by mounting deciduous and evergreen trees, some in lush summer green or charged with autumnal coloring. The trickling current of water, sometimes veering around a bend or turn in the river's course, is further interrupted by clusters of protruding rock or large boulders. A sliver of sky is visible along the upper margin, applied with square brush strokes, sometimes clouded in white, or with the occasional streak of blue sky revealed.

    Hartley waited impatiently for the foliage to cascade upon the region. Not until November did he see the leaves turn in his favor and Landscape No. 39 (Little River, New Hampshire) captures this long awaited moment for the anxious artist. After a dry summer, Hartley lamented that the colors were not the grandiose vision he might have imagined, but he set to work producing a select number of works which illustrate the changing season with great sentiment. (Ibid, p. 87) The present lot, feathered with patchwork strokes of warm, varied foliage hues, outlined by cooler tones which form the moving water, demonstrate Hartley's supreme skill as a colorist.

    The history of the present lot, including the work's location, numbering and date, has been opined by a number of Hartley scholars, as made evident by the numerous, posthumous inscriptions seen on the reverse of the board (fig. 2). As many of the artist's paintings were not signed or titled during the his lifetime, recording systems were attempted by those individuals or galleries who represented Hartley and his estate after 1943. It has been confirmed that the horizontal inscriptions which appear in cursive across the top half of the board were transcribed by Babcock Galleries staff after the work was received from the artist's estate on January 9, 1957. It was at this time that the work was assigned estate No. 81 and possibly titled Landscape No. 39. The 'Hartley,' inscription written in vertical orientation at center, may perhaps be an artist's signature. Along the lower margin, appearing faintly in pencil, the inscription 'Stieglitz #5' may refer to an old exhibition record, possibly from a show at Stieglitz's gallery, An American Place, in New York from December 15, 1930-January 18, 1931.

    Above the Babcock inscription are additional anecdotes which read 'New Hampshire' and '1910'. This assigned date had been disproven by Hartley scholar Elizabeth McCausland. McCausland made efforts to produce a catalogue raisonné of the artist's works, and although never published, she examined a majority of the artist's ouevre and estate holdings from 1944-45 and continued her research through the 1950s. It is in her papers, digitized by the Smithsonian Institution, in the Archives of American Art, that she seems to resolve the conflict of dating Landscape No. 39 (Little River, New Hampshire) and designate the work as a picture of 1930.

    The exhibition organized by Stieglitz at An American Place gallery at the end of the year in 1930 was deemed a success. The New Hampshire pictures were pleasing to critics and collectors alike now that the artist had returned to American subject matter. (B. Haskell, Marsden Hartley, New York, 1980, p. 81) The exhibition was profitable for the artist and allowed him financial support for the next year. A nearly eight-month period of illness followed in the winter of 1930 to 1931 and the artist produced no body of work during that time. (Ibid, p. 82) By the end of winter in 1931, the artist made plans to return to painting, settling in Dogtown, Maine, for the summer months, and soon thereafter Mexico with the stipend he was awarded for a Guggenheim Fellowship.

    Hartley assumed this wandering lifestyle throughout his career and while he frequented certain regions, he was never a fixture stuck in one place. As a result, his body of work serves as an extensive, biographical reference for the places and people that engaged Hartley through his lifetime. New Hampshire recalled a period of discontent for the artist after he left in the 1930s, but when examining his works of this period, including Landscape No. 39 (Little River, New Hampshire), in his psychological struggle we see great resolve. His return to landscape after his European period produced spirited oils. They exhibit monumental subjects having evolved with the determined stroke of his brush.

Saleroom notices

  • This work will be included in Gail R. Scott's forthcoming publication, Marsden Hartley: The Complete Paintings.
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) Landscape No. 39 (Little River, New Hampshire) 23 7/8 x 19 5/8in (Painted in 1930.)
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