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American Paintings and Sculpture
Artist: Marsden Hartley, American, 1877–1943

Collection of Numbers, Designs and Letters Seen by Me at the Beginning of the War in Berlin—Military in Nature

ca. 1915

Oil on canvas

23 1/2 × 23 1/2 in. (59.7 × 59.7 cm)
Transfer from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Gift of Caryl Harris, B.A. 1905, to the Marsden Hartley Collection, Yale Collection of American Literature

Unhappy with the artistic and cultural climate in America and attracted to the emotive, nonobjective tendencies in the art of Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and other members of the influential expressionist Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group in Germany, Marsden Hartley traveled to Berlin in 1913. He was thoroughly exhilarated by German culture in its militaristic age of “blood and iron.” Imbued with a growing sense of artistic importance and determined to find his own distinct niche in the German art world, he settled in Berlin.

On the eve of World War I, he created a series of abstract paintings whose motifs were derived from the German military insignia and emblems that he saw around him. He adopted a compositional technique derived from Cubist collage, juxtaposing visual fragments of the military environment—imperial flags, badges, and regimental insignia—in the overall design. Brightly colored and emblematic, the paintings in this series are characterized by flat areas of intense colors contained within discrete boundaries, the designs laid against solid grounds. Hartley eventually found it impossible to remain in Germany and returned to New York in December 1915.

Made in United States
On view
20th century
Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.