Marsden Hartley

Painting, Number 5

Not on view



Oil on linen

Overall: 39 1/4 × 32in. (99.7 × 81.3 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Gift of an anonymous donor

Rights and reproductions
© artist or artist’s estate

Marsden Hartley created Painting, Number 5, one of a series of War Motifs, during an extended stay in Berlin. Hartley was fascinated by the military pageantry of pre-war imperial Germany, and fragments of flags, banners, medals, and insignia crowd the surface of his canvases. "The military life adds so much in the way of a sense of perpetual gaiety here in Berlin," he wrote in 1913. The outbreak of World War I deeply troubled Hartley, however, and he was devastated by the death of Karl von Freyburg, a young German lieutenant with whom he had fallen in love. This work blends the splintered abstraction of Cubism with the mystical overtones of German Expressionism to conjure a symbolic portrait of Hartley’s fallen friend: included are an Iron Cross medal, epaulets, and brass buttons from his uniform, a chessboard that refers to his favorite game, and the number eight, a symbol of transcendence.


  • Where We Are, Spanish

    Marsden Hartley, Painting, Number 5, 1914-15

    Marsden Hartley, Painting, Number 5, 1914-15


    Adam Weinberg: Painting, Number Five, de Marsden Hartley, es una cacofonía exuberante de color y diseño. Cerca del centro del lienzo, se sobreponen dos círculos: uno contiene la Cruz de Hierro alemana, una medalla al valor otorgada a soldados alemanes por su valentía en la batalla; el otro contiene una cruz roja. Si se mira atentamente, es posible descubrir referencias a banderas, insignias militares e incluso un uniforme del ejército. El efecto es semejante a un collage; combina impresiones de elementos que Hartley encontró en Berlín, donde vivió antes del inicio de la Primera Guerra Mundial.

    ¿Cuál es el verdadero tema de esta pintura? Piense en la manera en que recuerda lo que le ha sucedido en el pasado. Con frecuencia es difícil evocar un evento en su totalidad. Recordamos a una persona o un suceso por los detalles: un gesto, un aroma, un color. Las pinturas de Hartley funcionan de la misma manera; esta obra es, en verdad, un retrato, aunque la imagen literal de una persona real esté ausente por completo. La pintura conmemora a un joven oficial alemán, Karl von Freyburg, que murió en los primeros meses de la Primera Guerra Mundial. Hartley estaba enamorado de von Freyburg y realizó esta pintura tras enterarse de su muerte.

    Inspirado en los artistas de la vanguardia europea de la época, Hartley comenzó a alejarse de las representaciones directas de los temas para explorar una imaginería más abstracta y evocadora. Hartley dijo alguna vez que el desafío del artista era revelar lo que llamó “la magia que subyace a la superficie de lo que los ojos ven”. En esta pintura, capta el sentido de una personalidad individual y el contenido emocional de su relación con Berlín y con von Freyburg.

  • 99 Objects

    July 23, 2015
    Caitlin Keogh on Number 5 by Marsden Hartley

    July 23, 2015
    Caitlin Keogh on Number 5 by Marsden Hartley


  • America Is Hard to See

    Marsden Hartley, Painting, Number 5, 1914–15

    Marsden Hartley, Painting, Number 5, 1914–15


    Narrator: Adam Weinberg is Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum.

    Adam Weinberg: Painting, Number Five, by Marsden Hartley, is an exuberant cacophony of color and pattern. Near the center of the canvas, two circles overlap—one contains the German Iron Cross, a medal of valor awarded to German soldiers for their courage in battle. The other contains a red cross. Look carefully and you can find references to flags, military insignia, and even an army uniform. The effect is like a collage, combining impressions of things Hartley encountered in Berlin, where he lived before the start of the First World War. 

    What is the real subject of this painting? Think about how you recall things that have happened to you in the past. Often, it’s hard to conjure up a sense of something in its entirety. We remember a person or an event in the details—a gesture, a smell, a color. Hartley’s paintings function that way too; it’s actually a portrait, although the literal image of an actual person is altogether absent. The painting commemorates a young German officer, Karl von Freyburg, who died in the early months of World War I. Hartley was in love with von Freyburg, and he made this painting after learning of his death. 

    Inspired by European avant-garde artists of the time, Hartley began to move away from direct representations of his subject matter toward more abstract, evocative imagery. Hartley once said that the artist’s challenge was to reveal what he called “the magic that is beneath the surface of what the eye sees.” In this painting, he captures a sense of an individual personality, and the emotional content of his relationship to Berlin and to von Freyburg. 

    The semi-abstract style of Hartley’s painting means that we have to struggle a bit to decode its meaning. If you’d like to hear about it, please tap the button to continue. 

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