Byline: Stephen Goode, INSIGHT
In the more than four decades of his life as an artist, the American painter and poet Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) turned out works in an amazing array of styles. He could be representational or abstract. Some of his paintings are realistic or at least seem to be so, while others are mystical and sometimes occult. For a while, Cubism fascinated him and he painted (sort of) like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Some of his most striking canvases packed with bold, vigorous color and form Hartley did under the influence of fellow artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, whom he met and befriended in Europe.
Other great artists have taken up a variety of styles without diminishing their reputations Picasso famously so but with Hartley it's been otherwise. His variousness has led to confusion about his status as a painter: Did he paint well in the different ways he painted or is his work superficial? Is one of his styles more genuinely Hartleyesque and more profound and satisfying than the others?
These questions aren't settled in the splendid exhibition of Hartley's works now at the Phillips Collection in Washington. But surely …