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Raptus

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Raptus

circa 1913
oil on canvas
39 3/8 in. x 32 in. (100.01 cm x 81.28 cm)
Gift of Paul and Hazel Strand in Memory of Elizabeth McCausland, 1965.4

Marsden Hartley
American
1877–1943

ON VIEW

Along with Arthur Dove (q.v.), John Marin (q.v.), and Georgia O'Keeffe (q.v.), Marsden Hartley is an important figure in the history of modern art in America. A native of Lewiston, Maine, Hartley studied painting first in Cleveland and then in New York City at the Chase School and the National Academy of Design. Initially, Hartley painted landscapes in an Impressionist style, but he began to turn toward Fauvism and more advanced modes after meeting Alfred Stieglitz (q.v.) in 1909. Intrigued by developments in Europe, Hartley traveled to France and Germany in 1912-13. Before long, he had settled in Berlin, where he associated with the city's avant-garde art community. During this period, Hartley painted some of his most memorable early paintings, including a series of semi-abstract compositions based on the colorful pageantry of the German military.

Following his return to the United States in late 1915, Hartley traveled from place to place in search of new inspiration. He visited Bermuda with Charles Demuth and then traveled to New Mexico, where he painted fantasy compositions based on Southwestern motifs. Back in Europe by 1921, Hartley lived for a time in Berlin before moving to southern France in 1925. He continued to travel restlessly throughout the 1930s, living in Mexico and Germany and spending summers in Bermuda, Massachusetts, and Nova Scotia. After the drowning deaths of two young friends in Nova Scotia, Hartley in 1937 returned to his home state of Maine, where he painted some of his greatest works. The artist died of heart failure in Ellsworth, Maine, in 1943.

Raptus belongs to a group of "mystical" compositions executed by Hartley during the period 1912-13. At this time, Hartley was strongly influenced by esoteric religion, both Western and Eastern. Although he was not a member of any particular church or faith group, Hartley was attracted to the writings of mystics such as Jakob Bohme and scholars like William James, whose treatise The Varieties of Religious Experience was claimed by the artist as the underlying source of the imagery in Raptus.

Raptus is a symbolic composition featuring a series of overlapping circles disposed in triangular and targetlike configurations. Superimposed over the larger group of circles in the top half of the canvas is a small white triangle from which emanate what appear to be focused beams of light. Below is the Latin word "raptus," inscribed on a pedestal-like form. Red, yellow, and white predominate, suggesting warmth, energy and spiritual purity.

The abstract, symbolic aspects of Raptus are reinforced both by the painting's flatness and by its inclusion of the written word within the composition. While in Paris in 1912, Hartley studied the Cubist compositions of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), gleaning from them new ways to approach his own subjects. Hartley, however, never attempted to follow Picasso but instead drew such elements from the Spanish painter's style as could be adapted to his own very different subject matter.

For Hartley, Raptus symbolized the mystical communion of God with man. William James described this bond as a state of bliss, or rapture, beyond the power of words to describe. Hartley felt that the visual arts could provide an answer where writing failed, and beginning with a single fiery word, he developed his interpretation of James's commentary into an elaborate synthesis of intellectually stimulating symbology and emotionally charged color. The interlinked groups of three circles in Raptus represent the trinity of the Godhead, as does the triangle, whose three sides form the most basic of polyhedral forms. The rays proceeding from the triangle may represent different aspects of a single divine Truth. Hartley's red, yellow, and white color scheme probably looks to the Russian modernist Vassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), who asserted that individual colors had metaphysical meaning. In his famous work, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky asserted that red was the color of spiritual harmony, yellow the color of earthly things, and white the color of divine purity. Working with Kandinsky's definitions, Hartley hoped to restate the intellectual message of the painting in a more immediate and intuitive way.

The mystical paintings of 1912-13 gave way to more decorative compositions after Hartley moved to the German capital, Berlin, in 1914. However, the artist's interest in the metaphysical remained, forming a natural counterpart to the transcendent themes of his landscapes. In 1932 Hartley would combine the two in a series of symbolic portraits of mystics, made in Mexico while on a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Raptus was presented to the Currier Museum of Art in 1965 by photographer Paul Strand (q.v.) and his wife, Hazel.

VSD

REFERENCES

Gail Levin. "Marsden Hartley and Mysticism." Arts Magazine 60, no. 3 (November 1985): 16-21.

Bruce Robertson. Marsden Hartley. New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1995.

Gail R. Scott. Marsden Hartley. New York: Abbeville Press, 1988.

Jonathan Weinberg. "Marsden Hartley: Writing on Painting." In Marsden Hartley. Edited by Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, pp.121-137. Ex. cat. Wadsworth Atheneum in association with Yale University Press, 2002.


Exhibition
1974 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "American Art Since 1914." June 15 - Sept. 8.

1986 Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Gallery of Art." Sept. 11 - Nov. 2.

1992 Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York, NY, "Marsden Hartley: German Abstractions, 1913-1915." Sept. 15 - Oct. 31.

2006-2007 Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Museum of Art." Sept. 2006 - Oct. 1, 2007.

2014 "Marsden Hartley: The German Paintings 1913-1915" Organized by Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Traveled to Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany, April 5 - June 29, 2014; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, Aug. 3, 2014–Nov. 30, 2014.

2016 Currier Museum of Art, "Max Pechstein: Paradise Lost" Nov. 23, 2016 - March, 2017

2019 Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark. "Marsden Hartley" Sept. 19, 2019 - Jan. 12, 2020.

Provenance
Mabel Dodge Luhan, 1916
Private collection
Paul Strand, about 1932
Paul and Hazel Strand, Gift to Currier Gallery of Art, 1965

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