Marsden Hartley

(1877-1943)

Hartley resided abroad for much of the period 1921-1930. In January 1928 he returned home for eight-month visit, when he spent time in New York, Chicago, Denver, Conway, Massachusetts, and Georgetown, Maine. Due to all his travel Hartley was rarely able to settle down in one place long enough to create new work. Most of his creative energy was devoted to writing about art and composing poetry. His most active period of painting at this time occurred in July and August 1928, when he was staying at the summer home of Louise Bryant and William C. Bullitt in Conway, Massachusetts.

In late 1928, Bullitt had connected Hartley with the New York banker William V. Griffin, a friend since their student years at Yale. By November, Griffin had set up a syndicate with his business associates James Imbrie, James Vincent Forrestal, and Judge George Carden, which provided Hartley with $2,000 a year for four years in exchange for ten paintings a year. Each member contributed $750 a year and drew lots for the paintings. The money was paid quarterly, and the ten paintings were due at the end of each fiscal year. Griffin had originally offered the funds without any strings attached, but Hartley felt morally uncomfortable with this arrangement.

“Calendulas in White Vase", painted in December, 1928 in Paris, was originally owned by William V. Griffin. In this work, Hartley explores the tension between naturalism and abstraction. Compositional unity is achieved through Hartley’s harmonious handling of color. The painting exemplifies one of Hartley’s favorite sayings from Cézanne: "When the colour harmonizes the design becomes precise" (Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley, ed. with an intro by Susan Elizabeth Ryan [Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, c. 1997], p. 138).