Detroit Institute of Arts acquires important work by American Modernist painter Marsden Hartley

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Detroit Institute of Arts acquires important work by American Modernist painter Marsden Hartley
Marsden Hartley (1877–1943), Boat Abstraction, 1916.

DETROIT, MICH.- The Detroit Institute of Arts today announced it has acquired an important work by famed American modernist painter Marsden Hartley (1877–1943). Boat Abstraction (1916) exemplifies Hartley’s early embrace of abstraction and stands as one of the most powerful works in a series of highly abstract paintings he completed while living in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during the summer and fall of 1916.

As Kenneth Myers, curator of American Art at the DIA, explains “Boat Abstraction expresses not just the movement of a sailboat, but Hartley’s sense of the evanescence of experience – the unending movement of the future into the present and the present into the past.” Boat Abstraction is the most visually vibrant and emotionally expressive of the twenty or so paintings of sailboats Hartley completed in 1916–17. It is the only one of these paintings to use the distinctive palette of colors Hartley had developed while living in Germany in 1914–15. In Boat Abstraction, the blackness of the surround sets off the colored shapes of the boat and its sails, suggesting the impermanence both of things in the world and of the consciousness that perceives them.

After 1917, Hartley moved away from the abstractness of his early work. DIA collections include two other major painting by him, Log Jam, Penobscot Bay (1940–41) and Black Duck No. 1 (1941). But they are both from near the end of Hartley’s career, after his work had become much more obviously figurative. The DIA has long hoped to acquire an important early abstraction by Hartley, and Boat Abstraction is a great one.

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