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Marsden Hartley

Painting, Number 5
1914–1915

On view
Floor 8

Date
1914–1915

Classification
Paintings

Medium
Oil on linen

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

Accession number
58.65

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 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.





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