Portrait of a German Soldier

7:00 AM

Marsden Hartley, Portrait of a German Soldier,  1914

We often gravitate towards the artists with brooding attitudes, rampant sexuality, and pretty poor people skills. Well, I’d like to step away from all that and introduce to you to Marsden Hartley, a quiet but extraordinary man.

In the wake of WWI, Hartley painted a series titled the German Paintings capturing his grief towards his fallen lover Karl Von Freyburg, a German Lieutenant. Karl and Hartley fell in love in Berlin before the start of the war. Hartley, originally from the United States, immersed himself in the culture of German expressionism.

All three paintings allude to different aspects of Karl’s life, but there are a few reoccurring themes. First the number 24, the age at which Karl died. KVF, Karl’s initials and the number 4 his regiment number.

In Portrait of a German Soldier we also see references to Karl’s love of chess with the black and white checker. Along with a homage to the Iron Cross, which Karl received posthumously. We also witness Hartley’s all-encompassing grief with the black background. Hartley forsakes national identity in favor of love. His dedication to Karl through these works belittles the whole idea of war. Making him appear to some un-American for loving the “enemy.”

Hartley internalized Karl’s death for a long time and spent the remainder of life wandering Europe, and United States in search of the same inspiration that Karl’s death spurred. Throughout his life Hartley found this mainly in landscapes, especially in Dogtown.

Unfortunately for Hartley his German Paintings received little recognition in the United States due to Americans associating Germans as the enemy. Today Hartley is finally being to receive the praise he deserves. The praise for a man who befriend Franz Marc, Alfred Stieglitz, Gertrude Stein and many others in his travels around the world.

An incredible painter, well worth your time.

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