Marsden Hartley Gets at Modernism’s Stony Heart

THE DAILY PIC: In 'Marsden Hartley's Maine' at the Metropolitan Museum, modernist rigor is surrounded by romance.

THE DAILY PIC (#1775): This lovely 1942 painting, called Sundown by the Ruins, is in “Marsden Hartley’s Maine,” a fascinating show at the Metropolitan Museum’s Breuer outpost in New York.

Even though Hartley was dedicated to representational painting there’s a backbone of rigorous modernism in everything he painted. That’s why he almost never made a boring picture.

I think today’s Pic stands for this balance he achieved in his art. The granite blocks represent the geometric structures and grids at the heart of all modern art; they’re set in the romantic, heartfelt world of places and people that Hartley could never abandon.

According to a Met Breuer wall text, exporting granite to the other states had been central to the economy of Maine until steel-framed buildings came along and rendered such hard stone superfluous—made it something that could be left abandoned in roadside piles. Is it possible that this painting intuits a similar fate for modernism? (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, gift of Charles Simon)

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