GLOUCESTER, Mass. – A new exhibition at the Cape Ann Museum offers insight into one of Maine’s most beloved modernist painters.

“Marsden Hartley: Soliloquy in Dogtown” is on view through Oct. 14 at the art museum in downtown Gloucester. It’s a small but captivating exhibition, consisting of 13 oil paintings and a dozen drawings that Hartley completed during three visits to Cape Ann in 1920, 1931 and 1934.

His focus was on an area of town known as Dogtown, which lately has served as a watershed for the communities of Rockport and Gloucester. It’s a relatively small, undeveloped and uninhabited area of rolling hills and boulders. The place captivated Hartley when he first visited in 1920, though he did not make any lasting paintings until he returned in 1931 and again three years later.

“I had seen some rocks 12 years before when I was in Gloucester, and Gloucester is one of those places you want to go back to — I had remembered the rocks and the name Dogtown — that’s a great name — and in all the years of Gloucester painting celebrity, no one had ever done anything about Dogtown,” he wrote.

Hartley’s Dogtown paintings are unmistakable for his style, said curator Martha Oaks. He employed bold colors and shapes, and seemed attracted to the harshness of the area. “It’s a very rugged landscape,” she said. “He was drawn to lonely, deserted areas, and no one was as captivated by Dogtown as Hartley was.”

Oaks is unsure how many Dogtown paintings Hartley made. He exhibited two dozen or so in New York in 1932, and added to that total when he returned two years later. This exhibition offers a small sampling of that work, and it was assembled from galleries and private collections across the country, Oaks said.

The Cape Ann Museum hosted a similar show in 1985. Then, the area of Dogtown was rundown and attractive to derelicts and vandals. It has since been cleaned up some, and become overgrown. Without its open vistas, it does not much resemble its state when Hartley visited, but remains a destination for hikers and those in search of quiet.

The museum decided to take a second look at Hartley and Dogtown because interest in both the painter and the area have grown in the past 25 or so years, Oaks said.

“The drawings are rather sketchy and jagged. They are not always the most beautiful, but they are interesting,” she said. “On some, he wrote poetry on the back, so it was obviously a very emotional and meaningful experience to him. There is a roughness to them, and that is part of their appeal.”

Born in Lewiston, Hartley returned to Maine in 1937 and spent the rest of his life in his native state. He died in Ellsworth in 1943, and his ashes were scattered along the Androscoggin River.

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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