On View at New Mexico Museum of Art

Marsden Hartley was part of the second generation of artists to come to Taos. This group, including Andrew Dasburg, John Marin, and Georgia O’Keeffe, introduced Modernism into the Southwest.  

Hartley often came into conflict with many of the academic painters who made up the Taos Society of Artists.  In 1918 Hartley wrote an essay in El Palacio Magazine critiquing the application of European academic techniques to what he saw as the uniquely American subject matter of the Southwest. Criticizing the Taos Society Artist, he wrote, “they tell themselves that the great art of America is to come from Taos. Well, there will have to be godlike changes for the better in this case.”

Hartley eventually moved to Santa Fe to distance himself from Taos’s artistically conservative climate. Like many American Modernist painters of the 20th Century, Marsden Hartley was looking for a distinctly American subject for his artwork, and a certain “aesthetic sincerity.” 

Hartley first visited New Mexico in 1918, the year after the New Mexico Museum of Art opened, and wrote of the experience, “I am an American discovering America.” During his early visits to New Mexico his style shifted from abstract to more realistic subject matter, and he found what he believed to be definitively American subject matter in the blending of Native, Hispanic, and Euro-American cultures. He produced a number of still lifes here, such as the Hispanic Catholic retablo in this painting, depicted along with Native pottery and textiles. 

Story by Christian Waguespack, Head of Curatorial Affairs, New Mexico Museum of Art

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