Marsden Hartley, unlike most artists, was a man of letters as well as a painter. He rarely painted more than two or three hours a day, and from the start he occupied himself with various literary compositions. A gregarious man, in spite of a certain shy uneasiness and puritan pride and a love of remote and lonely places, he kept up a copious correspondence with friends old and new, and at times wrote almost with specific literary intent: poems, critical essays and reminiscences in which a considerable culture and wordly wisdom were incorporated, according to the bent of his mind.
At first, while his painting still ventured experimentally this way and that, some of his friends thought he might find his ultimate self-expression in literature. Then came the sudden and decisive focus of his pictorial ability compared with which his writing as a whole seems scattered and incomplete. However, in two or three introductions to showings of his work and explanations of his standpoint in art, as well as revelatory bits of correspondence, he did furnish the theory and exegesis of his talent. Therefore it seems appropriate to let him speak for himself in this summary presentation of his work.
The peculiar strength and interest of Hartley as a type of American artist lies in an integrity and obstinacy of which he himself seems to have been, for the most part, unaware. Even in old age, he spoke of his life work as a struggle, a discipline, a research and an evolution, as if he were still, in his own opinion, a promising youth. Though scornful of easy success and compromise, on his own behalf he was exceedingly humble. Disappointed as to public recognition during four-fifths of his life, obliged to live modestly and uncertainly, he maintained a happy nature, never indulging in any thwarted rebelliousness against the hard modern times or the inartistic habit of mind of his countrymen. He was unbending and unbreakable, as stubborn as a rock, but cheerful, hopeful and indefatigable. Therefore the sense and the lesson of the . . .