Portrait of a German Officer

Marsden Hartley (American, Lewiston, Maine 1877–1943 Ellsworth, Maine)

Oil on canvas
68 1/4 x 41 3/8 in. (173.4 x 105.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Marsden Hartley painted his most startlingly advanced abstractions during the first years of World War I (March 1914–December 1915) while he was living in Berlin. The city was filled with avant-garde artists from all over the world. During this period he produced a series of abstract portraits of German officers, intensely powerful canvases that reflect not only his revulsion at the horrors of war but also his fascination with the energy and pageantry that accompanied the war's destruction.

    This painting, executed in November 1914, shows Hartley's assimilation of both Cubism (the collagelike juxtapositions of visual fragments) and German Expressionism (the coarse brushwork and dramatic use of bright colors and black). In 1916 the artist denied that the objects in the painting had any special meaning (perhaps as a defensive measure to ward off any attacks provoked by the intense anti-German sentiment in America at the time). However, his purposeful inclusion of medals, banners, military insignia, the Iron Cross, and the German imperial flag does evoke a specific sense of Germany during World War I as well as a collective psychological and physical portrait of a particular officer.

    The picture shows pointed references to Hartley's close friend Karl von Freyburg, a young cavalry officer who had recently been killed in action, including his initials, his age (24), and his regiment number (4). Hartley's concern with abstraction did not last long (ca. 1911–16). He made several more trips to Europe and spent time in Mexico, the American Southwest, Bermuda, and Nova Scotia before returning home to Maine. His later work, depicting the hard-working people and majestic landscape of the state, is simple, direct, and intensely personal.

  • Provenance

    The artist (to Alfred Stieglitz); Alfred Stieglitz, New York (by 1935–d. 1946); his estate (1946–49; gift to the Metropolitan Museum, 1949)

  • Exhibition History

    Hartford, Connecticut: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, January 18 - April 20, 2003; Washington, DC: The Phillips Collection, June 7 - September 7, 2003; Kansas City: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, October 11,2003 - January 11, 2004. ¦Marsden Hartley¦. p.89, plate 19, detail p.120, illus. in color, x-ray photograph p.270.

    Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, January 28, 2001 - April 22, 2001. ¦Alfred Stieglitz and Modern Art in America¦. plate 75, p.242 and frontispiece illustrated in color.

    Berlin: Martin-Gropius-Bau, May 8-July 25, 1993; London: Royal Academy of Arts, Sept. 16-Dec. 12, 1993. ¦Amerikanische Kunst im 20 Jahrhundert, Malerei und Plastik, 1913-1993¦, cat. #1.

    New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, March 4 - May 25, 1980. Chicago, Illinois: The Art Institute of Chicago, June 10 - August 3, 1980. Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter, Museum of Western Art, September 5 - October 26, 1980. Berkeley, California: University of California, University Art Museum, November 12, 1980 - January 4, 1981. ¦Marsden Hartley¦. Cat. no. 32, p. 215 (illus. in black and white), fig. 41, p. 44, (illus. in color), plate 82, p. 157, mentioned in text pp. 45 illustrated in black and white) fig. 41, p. 44; illustrated in color, plate 82, p. 157

    New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 19, 1970- February 14, 1971. ¦Masterpieces of 50 Centuries¦.

    Boston, Mass: Boston Museum of Fine Arts, August - October 1970.

    New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1965. ¦Three Centuries of American Painting¦. [checklist arranged alphabetically].

    New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, March 6 - April 8, 1962.

    AFA for Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Holland. January 31 - March 1, 1961.

    New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 1954-April 1955. ¦Columbia Bicentennial Exhibition¦.

    New York: Museum of Modern Art, May 15, 1951- Extended Loan, 3 Year Period

    New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1950. ¦20th Century Painters, U.S.A.¦. [listed]

    Chicago, Illinois: Art Institute of Chicago, February 2 - 29, 1948. ¦Alfred Stieglitz-His Photographs and His Collection¦. Checklist no. 56

    New York: Museum of Modern Art, June 10 - August 31, 1947. ¦Alfred Stieglitz Exhibition: His Collection¦. checklist no. 35.

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Museum of Art, September - October 22, 1944. ¦History of an American: Alfred Stieglitz "291" and After¦ p. 33, no. 241

    Hartford, Connecticut: Wadsworth Atheneum, February 2 - March 4, 1943. ¦Men in Arms¦. no. 41.

    New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, February 12 - March 22, 1935. ¦Abstract Painting in America¦. cat. no. 53. [listed as: Portrait of My Friend, 1914, oil, collection of Mr. Alfred Stieglitz]; not illustrated

    New York: Museum of Modern Art, November 1934. ¦Modern Works of Art¦. no. 85, ill. (Collection of an American Place)

    New York: Museum of Modern Art, December 2 - January 20, 1931. ¦Painting and Sculpture by Living Americans¦. No. 42

  • References

    James Aulich and John Lynch (eds). Critical Kitaj: Essays on the work of R. B. Kitaj. New Brunswick, NJ, 2001, “Introduction,” p. 9.

    John I. H. Bauer, Revolution and Tradition in Modern American Art, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951. illustrated in "Revolution in Form: Abstract Art Today, 1910-1930" section, n.p., fig. 66

    Berlin, Germany: Altes Museum , Museum Island, June 4-August 28, 1994; London, England: Barbican Art Gallery, September 29-December 11, 1994, A BITTER TRUTH/Avant-Garde Art and the Great War, Exh. cat. by Richard Cork. p. 93, fig. 110.

    MMA. American Painting in the Twentieth Century. By Henry Geldzahler (1965), p. 58 (ill., discussed), p. 216 (short biography of the artist), p. 228 (bibliography on the artist).

    Greenough, Sarah, et. al. Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries. National Gallery of Art, 2000. Cat. no. 75, p. 6 (ill. in color), 233, 235, 242 (ill. in color).

    Hartley, Marsden. Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley. Edited, with an introduction by Susan Elizabeth Ryan. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995. Illustrated in black and white p. 11.

    Haskell, Barbara. Marsden Hartley. N.Y.: Whitney Museum of American Art, in association with New York University Press, 1980. Cat. no. 32, p. 215 (illus. in black and white), fig. 41, p. 44. (illus. in color) plate 82, p. 157.

    Larkin, Oliver. "Alfred Stieglitz and '291.' Magazine of Art, vol. 40, May 1947, illustrated p. 183 [entire article pp. 179-183], (titled & dated: My Friend, 1913; caption: "Shown by Stieglitz in 1914 in the third exhibition devoted to Hartley's work.")

    Rose, Barbara. American Painting: The 20th Century. Switzerland: 1969 (illustrated in color p. 12)

    Weber, Bruce. The Heart of the Matter: The Still Lifes of Marsden Hartley. Exhibition catalogue. NY: Berry Hill Galleries, Inc, 2003. Mentioned in text pp. 25, 27; illustrated in black and white fig. 18, p. 25

    Magazine of Art , Vol. 37, March 1944, ill. p. 86, called "Prussian Officer".

    Philadelphia Museum of Art. History of an American: Alfred Stieglitz "291" and After. No. 241, p. 33

    Cincinnati Modern Art Society, Hartley and Stuart Davis Exhibition, 1941, listed as "Portrait of my Friend"

    Catalogue of the 5th Anniversary Exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art, 1934-1935, p. 29

    Nora B. Beeson. Guide to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. MMA. NY, 1972, p. 278, illustrated p. 278 no. 6.

  • See also