Marsden Hartley, Madawaska, Acadian Light-Heavy, Third Arrangement, 1940. Oil on masonite, 27 7/8 × 21 1/2 in. (70.8 × 54.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Nina and Herman Schneider, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Dr. Meyer A. Pearlman and Purchase by exchange, and the Director’s Discretionary Acquisition Fund 2005.89
NARRATOR: For this painting, Marsden Hartley’s model was a boxer in the light-heavyweight class. His chest is so broad it seems crowded by the edges of the canvas, and his shoulders and neck are incredibly muscular. Heavy black lines delineate much of his body, and Hartley has piled the paint on thick, emphasizing the man’s weight and strength.
Hartley had developed a dynamic modernist style in the nineteen-teens. After World War I, he turned mostly to seascapes. He didn’t begin experimenting with portraiture until 1937, the year he turned fifty. He did so as a kind of tribute to two young men, one of whom he’d become infatuated with. They were members of a family he’d boarded with—and become very close to—while living in Nova Scotia. One night the young men went out drinking, and both drowned. Hartley developed this forceful, archaic style while in mourning, using it to express the grief of the bereaved family but also its strength and resilience. Hartley continued developing this portrait style until his death.