Dr. Gail Levin, author of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Marsden Hartley, writes: "Marsden Hartley painted Silence of High Noon after he returned to his native Maine in mid-May 1908.1 Born in 1877 in Lewiston, Hartley forged a deep affection for the state to which he continually returned after ventures away. On this occasion, he stayed in North Lovell in the Stoneham valley near Kezar Lake, an area that had attracted him since 1902, and where he remained through the winter painting mountain landscapes. In a letter to Shaemus O'Sheel, the Irish poet and a friend, Hartley referred to these canvases as 'Romances sans Paroles' and 'Autumn Impersonals.' 2
"Since the 1880s, the extraordinary beauty of Kezar Lake had appealed to those summering away from New York City. A number of these visitors were active in the New York Society for Ethical Culture, a nontheistic humanist movement that was founded by intellectuals in the late nineteenth century. The group's belief that God acts through human beings and that all their actions have moral dimensions may have attracted Hartley as much as the unique visual appeal of the area. Hartley worked during the summer and fall of 1907 at Green Acre, a utopian religious community in Eliot, Maine, where he joined Horace Traubel, his friend who had been Walt Whitman's confidant and champion. Also an admirer of Whitman, Hartley's interest in the spiritual remained strong.
"Ever since his days at the Cleveland School of Art (1898-99), Hartley had been an avid reader of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essays; he went on to other literature in search of spiritual guidance.3 In Emerson's essay on 'The Over-Soul,' we find words that would have resonated with Hartley: 'Let man, then, learn the revelation of all nature and all thought to his heart; this, namely; that the Highest dwells with him; that the sources of nature are in his own mind, if the sentiment of duty is there.'4
"During this time, when Hartley painted some of the greatest mountain compositions of his early career, he lived simply and willingly coped with the harsh elements of Maine; a small price, perhaps, to enjoy its magnificent scenery. Hartley stayed not on the picturesque lake front, but in an abandoned shack in a more desolate area of Stoneham Valley near North Lovell, where there had once been a mill that manufactured spools and long lumber.
"Lovell is in the southern part of Oxford County, north of Fryeburg, near the New Hampshire line.5 On the north-west and north-east it is bounded by Stoneham, east by Waterford, and south-east by Sweden. Looking west to New Hampshire and due north toward Speckled Mountain in Maine are some of the dramatic vistas that appealed to Hartley. To get to North Lovell, Hartley took the train from New York to Fryeburg, where he changed to the same crowded horse-drawn stagecoach that delivered the Lovell community's mail and provisions.
"For inspiration in how to paint landscape, Hartley in this formative period studied reproductions of paintings by the Italian pointillist, Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899), which he found in the German art nouveau magazine, Judgend. He dubbed Segantini 'the master of the mountain,' later writing: 'I personally am indebted to Segantini the impressionist, not Segantini the symbolist, for what I have learned in times past of the mountain and a given way to express it—just as it was [Albert Pinkham] Ryder who accentuated my already tormented imagination.'6 In this period, Hartley, like Segantini, utilized neo-impressionist stitch brushstokes applied with thick, textured paint. These broken, energetic dabs of color applied with exceptional ferocity animate the overall composition.
"Despite Hartley's glance at the work of his precursors, the signature style that he developed is very much his own. Although the palette of Silence of High Noon suggests that the season is pre-autumnal, the trees already have touches of what will become bright autumn colors. Thus the warmth of red tones enlivens this composition, dappling the trees and the fields beneath them. It is a beautiful day with blue sky against which large white puffy clouds float above the mountain. Color had been prominent in Hartley's thoughts for several months when he painted this canvas. In May 1908, Hartley wrote to Traubel that he was longing 'to go to California next fall perhaps for a year to paint in that vividly glowing country and to attune my senses to livelier color.'7
"By July 1910, Hartley explained to his niece that he was working from his imagination, "using the mountains only as backgrounds for ideas. ... I do not allow myself to work from nature much but from my memory of it. This is difficult art-- almost anybody can paint from nature.'8 The work of the previous year had been closer to observation, but had long since evolved into Hartley's very personal interpretation of nature.
"Silence of High Noon is closely related in size, subject, style, and brushstroke to several other canvases Hartley painted at this time, especially Carnival of Autumn (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Cosmos (Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio), and The Summer Camp, Blue Mountain (The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Golden Gate Park). All of these major canvases were most likely painted during the summer and autumn of 1908 while Hartley was living in North Lovell.
"Hartley's first solo exhibition in New York opened in May 1909 at Alfred Stieglitz's Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, popularly known as 291 from its address on Fifth Avenue, between 30th and 31st streets. This show, called Exhibition of Paintings in Oil by Mr. Marsden Hartley, of Maine contained thirty-three landscapes, most of which were painted in 1908, when Hartley finished Silence of High Noon. This canvas appears to have been included in this show as 'Silence of High Noon--Midsummer.'9 Cosmos and The Summer Camp were also in this show. Because nothing sold from this debut show, Hartley would exhibit these paintings again soon.
"In fact, Silence of High Noon was featured in Hartley's show from January-February 9, 1915 at the Daniel Gallery at 2 West 47th Street in New York City. This was one of seventeen works exhibited there in a show called Paintings by Marsden Hartley 'The Mountain Series,' all of which Hartley had produced in Maine on his multiple trips to his native state. In Silence of High Noon and in his series of closely related paintings, he rendered the clouds as the pleasing forms described by Emerson in an essay, Spiritual Laws, that Hartley frequently read: 'When the act of reflection takes place in the mind, when we look at ourselves in the light of thought, we discover that our life is embosomed in beauty. Behind us, as we go, all things assume pleasing forms, as clouds do far off. Not only things familiar and stale, but even the tragic and terrible, are comely, as they take their place in the pictures of memory.' "10
1 See Marsden Hartley to Horace Traubel, letter postmarked May 8, 1908, in William Innes Homer, ed., Heart's Gate: Letters Between Marsden Hartley and Horace Traubel 1906-1915 (Highlands, North Carolina: The Jargon Society, 1982), 61, Hartley wrote: "I go to Maine in a week to remain until November."
2 Marsden Hartley to Shaemus O'Sheel, letter of October 19, 1908, Beinecke Library, Yale University.
3 See Gail Levin, "Marsden Hartley and Mysticism," Arts, 60, no. 3, November 1985, 16-21.
4 Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Over-Soul" in Essays: First Series (Boston: 1841).
5 See Robert C. Williams, Lovewell's Town (Topsham, Maine: Just Write Books, 2007).
6 Marsden Hartley, "On the Persistence of the Imagination," 1938, and "Art—and the Personal Life," 1928, essays both collected in Gail R. Scott, ed., On Art by Marsden Hartley (New York: Horizon Press, 1982), 204 and 72.
7 See Marsden Hartley to Horace Traubel, letter postmarked May 8, 1908, in William Innes Homer, ed., Heart's Gate: Letters Between Marsden Hartley and Horace Traubel 1906-1915 (Highlands, North Carolina: The Jargon Society, 1982), 61.
8 Marsden Hartley to Norma Berger, letter of July 1910, written in North Lovell, Maine, Collection of Bates College, Lewiston, Maine.
9 See checklist of Exhibition of Paintings in Oil by Mr. Marsden Hartley of Maine, Photo-Secession Galleries, New York, May 8-18, 1909.
10 Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Spiritual Laws," in Essays: First Series (Boston: 1841).
We would like to thank Dr. Gail Levin for this essay and her assistance in cataloguing this lot.
Oil on canvas
New York, Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (291), Exhibition of Paintings in Oil by Mr. Marsden Hartley, of Maine, May 1909
New York, Daniel Gallery, Paintings by Marsden Hartley: The Mountain Series, January-February 1915
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., n.d.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, n.d.
30 1/4 by 30 1/2 in. (76.8 by 77.5 cm)
Daniel Gallery, New York
Private collection, New York, circa 1940
By descent in the family to the present owner