Portrait of a German Officer

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

Date: 1914

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 68 1/4 x 41 3/8 in. (173.4 x 105.1 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949

Accession Number: 49.70.42


Hartley painted his most startlingly advanced abstractions during the first years of World War I while living in Berlin (March 1914-December 1915). The War Motifs, his German military series, are intensely powerful canvases in an Expressionist vein; they reflect not only his revulsion at the wartime destruction, but also his fascination with the energy and pageantry that accompanied the carnage. Portrait of a German Officer, painted in November 1914, shows Hartley's assimilation of both Cubism (the collage-like juxtaposition of visual fragments and the hieratic structuring of geometric shapes) and German Expressionism (the coarse brushwork and the dramatic color). The condensed mass of images (badges, flags, medals) evokes a collective psychological and physical portrait of the officer. There are also specific references to Hartley's close friend Karl von Freyburg, a Prussian lieutenant whom the artist loved: K.v.F. are his initials, 4 was his regiment number, and 24 his age.