Painting by Marsden Hartley of “place you don’t know” located in the Portland Bank vault

For years, researchers have wondered where a 1936 painting by the modernist and Maine native Marsden Hartley was.

They knew the painting existed because a black and white photo of it was reproduced in a catalog at a Hartley exhibit in Nova Scotia in 1987. The painting itself, an elegy to Canadian friends who drowned in it. an Atlantic hurricane, was not on display, but was described in the catalog as belonging to a collector in Maine. Previously, it had only been exhibited twice, in New York at the American Place Gallery shortly after its premiere in 1936 and in Portland in 1980 at the Barridoff Galleries, where it was subsequently sold to a private collection.

The painting resurfaced this summer in a Key Bank safe in downtown Portland, where an art collector had taken it many years ago to keep it safe, lest it be not be stolen from his home in Windham. The collector had recently passed away and his attorney contacted Portland art historian Gail Scott, who is working with the Bates College Museum of Art to create a comprehensive online catalog of all of Hartley’s known paintings and works on paper, the Marsden Hartley Legacy Project.

Almost every other major artist of Hartley’s stature has had their work fully documented, every painting or work on paper documented with date of creation, exposure, ownership and other essential details, and often comments as well. But that hadn’t happened for Hartley, until Bates took charge when he received nearly $ 200,000 from the Horowitz Foundation for the Arts to start the project. The museum recently received a $ 100,000 grant from the New York-based Vilcek Foundation to complete it.

“Hartley is increasingly recognized as one of the most important American modernists of the 20th century,” said museum director Dan Mills. “He is also one of the few of his generation and his stature who does not have this type of full scholarship. This is a huge project, and we are so lucky to have one of the leading Hartley scholars living in Maine and already deeply committed to the Hartley and Hartley Fellowship.

A portrait of Marsden Hartley in 1942. Alfredo Valente

Hartley was a native of Lewiston, born in 1877, and the Bates Museum is home to the Hartley Memorial Collection, donated by the artist’s heirs and comprising the largest group of Hartley drawings, as well as the artist’s palette, brushes, the easel and other contents from his last home and studio in Korea on the East Coast, sketchbooks and early oil paintings. Over the years, Bates acquired other paintings by Hartley to enrich them. He died in Ellsworth in 1943, having traveled the world as a traveling painter, and has always considered himself “The Painter of Maine”.

Scott, who lives in Portland and has devoted much of his career to the Hartley Fellowship, called the discovery of the 1936 painting a “eureka moment” in his research because it represented something new. Certainly the collector, whose family asked Scott not to name him, knew what he had and cared enough about the painting to protect it by putting it in a bank vault – and bequeathing it to a major museum. New England art, which Scott wouldn’t have wanted. name, where it will reside in the future. But it was a moment of discovery for Scott and other Hartley researchers, who had only heard of this work but never seen this work. It had not been on public display for over 40 years, entered a private collection – then into a safe.

As part of his research with the Legacy Project, Scott had tried to contact the collector himself, by phone and letter, but never got a response. She described it as an unsuccessful attempt to locate the painting or its owner, and classified the location of the painting as unknown. It may still be in the private collection, whether it was passed on as a gift or sold – or, as its owner had feared, stolen in a theft.

But in late spring or early summer, Scott heard from the estate attorney, who told him his letter requesting information on the painting had been received – three days after the collector’s death. . In her grief, the collector’s widow forwarded the letter to the lawyer.

In August, Scott was finally able to see the painting in person in the bank’s safe.

“It took a few months, but of course I went down to the Key Bank in downtown Portland and in the big safe and there was this painting that I had never seen in color and that I had never seen in person, ”she said. She photographed the painting in front and behind and spent time absorbing, noting, and documenting the details.

It is one of Hartley’s many memorials to deceased friends, a theme he began with his German officer paintings in 1914, Scott said. She described it as “a stylized and symbolic work”. The oil painting on cardboard, measuring 17 inches high and 12 inches wide, features a gold chalice with a red heart and cross, with two cloud-shaped shapes or white roses.

Portland art historian Gail Scott is leading a catalog project of all of Marsden Hartley’s artwork for the Bates College Museum of Art. Courtesy photo

Examining the back of the painting, she saw that it had many names over the years. One of her many alternative titles, in French, was “Ciboire avec Ostie” or “Calice avec Hostie”, suggesting the Eucharist, she said. He was also known as “Friend in the Storm” and more recently “Roses for Fishermen Lost at Sea”. But Hartley named the painting “Friend Against the Wind”, after his own inscription on the back, and that is the name Scott uses in his research.

Scott’s discovery of the painting and Scott’s ability to put it in the context of Hartley’s career is why this research is so vital, said William Low, the curator of the Bates Museum. “The hunt continues. There’s still a lot of flogging to be done, but there are some revealing moments that are exciting for her, ”Low said. “That’s what she lives for.”

The Vilcek Foundation grant will allow Scott to do more research to try and account for more of these missing works by Hartley, Low said. “The grant we received for the Horowitz Foundation project was very generous and a good start for a very important project. This grant allows us to reach the finish line. Gail has worked feverishly to identify works and communicate with collectors and institutions, ”Low said.

Founded by Jan and Marica Vilcek, art lovers and Hartley fans, the New York foundation supports artistic and scientific projects and collaborated with Bates on his exhibition “Marsden Hartley: Adventurer in the Arts” this year at the museum. Mills commended the Vilcek Foundation for supporting the museum and its research. “They are so deeply attached to Hartley and American Modernist art, and we are happy and happy to be in partnership with them,” he said.

Until Scott’s research, modern Hartley experts knew little about the 1936 painting other than what they gleaned from the limited black-and-white photo. They feared he was missing and counted him among about 240 missing paintings or works on paper by Hartley of the approximately 1,650 he created over a career spanning more than 40 years.

Some may be hidden in dusty attics, others stored in banks. Most likely, many of these missing works were old paintings or drawings that are truly lost and not just gone. “We’re sure of it,” Scott said.

Among those likely to have been lost is a painting of a cigar shop next to Hartley’s studio on Lisbon Street in Lewiston from 1902 or 1903, which is described in correspondence from the Hartley collection to Bates. “We’ve never seen anything that looks like that kind of storefront or that view from the street of Lisbon,” Scott said. “But there is a lot of research to be done.”

On the Marsden Hartley Legacy Project website, collectors are encouraged to submit work to Scott for review. The hope is to encourage people who might own some of these unrecorded works to come forward.

“So far many of the submissions have not been Hartley’s work, but there are several examples of people who heard about our project and submitted something (Hartley original),” he said. she declared.

One was a watercolor by Hartley submitted by a Midwestern estate appraiser. “In fact, it was one of those lost paintings, what I call one of Hartley’s ‘in the unknown place’ works. She was assessing the estate of a woman who owned it and contacted us.

It was another eureka moment, with more to come.

The project currently has a part-time staff member, a Columbia University art history graduate student who helps procure images and run a social media campaign. Scott said the Vilcek Foundation grant would allow him to hire another researcher to help him explore and document ownership of the works of art.

“Research continues into the ownership history of over 1,600 Hartley’s works and the search for current owners as well as past owners,” she said. “This is what I hope to do with the support of Vilcek, hire another graduate student in art history or someone with experience in this type of research. It would be a big help for me.

With someone else on board, Scott would be free to do the art history sleuth that inspires him and is essential to the success of the project.

“We are an educational institution and our goal is to support the scholarship so that things that should be known are known,” said Mills, the museum director. “Gail discovers works that have been out of sight for a long time and makes scholarly discoveries by focusing on that work and that work and connecting the dots between those works, as only this type of practical scholarship can.”

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