“Paris Days … Pre-War Pageant,” a 1913 oil-on-canvas painting by Marsden Hartley.

Although it has been attempted more than once, a comprehensive accounting of all the paintings and drawings of modernist painter and Maine native Marsden Hartley has never been completed. The Bates College Museum of Art aims to change that, and has turned to noted Hartley expert and Portland art historian Gail R. Scott to lead the effort.

It’s a massive undertaking.

Portland art historian Gail Scott is leading a project to catalog all Marsden Hartley art work for the Bates College Museum of Art. Photo by Nyla Pearl Scott

Scott will spend the next three years tracking down and detailing the histories of each and every one of the 1,650 or so Hartley paintings and drawings known to exist as part of the Marsden Hartley Legacy Project: The Complete Paintings and Works on Paper. It is funded by a $192,000, three-year grant from the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts of New York. The first phase of the project will result in an online catalog. Long term, the goal is a printed catalog.

When possible, Scott will examine each painting and drawing in person, traveling far and wide to wherever Hartley paintings are known to exist. Her job will entail gathering the facts about each piece of art – where and when it was created, who has owned it, where it has been exhibited, and other details. She has seen hundreds of Hartley works over the years, but looking at a painting in an exhibition and conducting scholarly work about its creation and history are very different tasks, she said.

“The purposeful examination of works for a project like this is very different,” she said. “It’s important to examine the back of the painting, which often has amazing clues about ownership and all manner of information that you don’t know if you don’t have access to the back. … It’s a little like sleuthing.”

Hartley, born in Lewiston in 1877, was among the circle of artists associated with New York photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz and is considered one of the great American modernist painters, along with Georgia O’Keeffe, John Marin and others. He died in Ellsworth in 1943.

He described himself as “the painter of Maine,” and was known for his rich colors and bold lines.

Other art scholars and Hartley specialists have collected material for a comprehensive catalog, including Elizabeth McCausland, who wrote a biography about Hartley, published in 1952, and extensively researched his career after his death when his estate was being inventoried and liquidated. Scott is building on McCausland’s research, which resides in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, as well as the work of others over the years.

But those scholars never produced a catalog of all of Hartley’s work. Scott took on the task as a solo researcher in 2012, “and I have been pecking away at it ever since,” she said. “A few years ago, I realized I needed institutional partnership to make it go public. I could work toward a print version of the project and publish it, but for it to be accessible, one needs an institutional platform. I was very happy that Bates embraced the project so enthusiastically.”

While the scope of this project is unsurpassed for the Bates museum, it’s a good and timely one for the institution to take on, said museum director Dan Mills. The Bates museum already is a resource for Hartley scholars because of the Hartley Memorial Collection, given by the artist’s heirs to the museum in the 1950s. That collection includes 99 drawings, the largest grouping of Hartley drawings known to exist, as well as the artist’s palette, brushes, easel and other contents from his final home and studio in Corea on the Down East coast, sketchbooks and two early oil paintings.

Marsden Hartley’s “Intellectual Niece,” a painting from 1939 of the artist’s niece, Norma Berger, which was purchased by the Bates College Museum of Art. It is part of the Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection at Bates.

A few years ago, Bates added another Hartley oil painting to its collection, “Intellectual Niece,” a painting from 1939 of his niece Norma Berger, who donated much of the Hartley collection to the museum. A previous Horowitz grant paid for the purchase of the painting and the cataloging of the Bates collection.

There is a lot of interest in Hartley right now, and this project will give scholars, on campus and around the world, more resources to understand and evaluate his art, Mills said. “As stewards of the Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection, and as the art museum in his hometown of Lewiston, the museum and Bates think this is where the catalog on Hartley’s paintings and drawings should reside and that we should take the lead on this,” Mills said, noting that Bates recently completed a project to catalog the existing Hartley paintings and drawings in its collection with a previous Horowitz Foundation grant “and are well along on the items he collected, made art with, photographs, and ephemera that constitute the rest of the collection.”

Scott is the ideal scholar for the project, he added. She is recognized as one of the foremost Hartley scholars and has a close relationship with the museum and college, Mills said. In addition to her work on Hartley, Scott also has researched and written about the careers of Chuck Close and E. Ambrose Webster, as well as Maine artists Carl Sprinchorn, Harold Garde and Marguerite and William Zorach.

William Low, the museum’s curator, said he was proud that Bates stepped up to get the grant to make the project possible. “Hartley is the only remaining modernist in the country for whom this has not been done. With his connections to the Stieglitz group, it’s long overdue,” Low said. “It’s not necessarily a feather in the cap for the museum, but we are honoring the Hartley legacy and making sure that this work gets done in his home state.”


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