The Carter Announces Major Acquisition: Marsden Hartley's "American Indian Symbols," a Seminal Work of American Modernism

Release date: 
May 24, 2001

Slide available upon request; view on Web site: http://www.cartermuseum.org

FORT WORTH, Texas --- The Amon Carter Museum announced today that it has acquired "American Indian Symbols" (oil on canvas, 1914), one of the paintings in the "Amerika" series created in Berlin, Germany, by the important American modernist, Marsden Hartley (1877--1943). This is the last major painting in the series to have remained in private ownership. The painting adds to the Carter's holdings of works by other major modernists who were in the Stieglitz circle---Charles Demuth, Georgia O'Keeffe and Arthur Dove.

The painting will be on view at the Carter when it reopens on Sunday, October 21, 2001, following its two-year, $39 million expansion. The museum will have four times the space to display its famed American art collection. Although the museum has been closed during construction, the staff has been actively acquiring new works to add to the Carter's preeminent collection of 19th- and early- 20th-century American paintings, sculpture, photographs, and works on paper.

Director Rick Stewart, a recognized scholar in the field of American modernism, sought the acquisition of the Hartley painting for a number of years. "'American Indian Symbols' is a milestone in Hartley's career and a masterwork of American modernism," he said. "I've always regarded the series of paintings Hartley did in Berlin during the outbreak of the First World War to be the most important of its kind by any American artist working in the period. We are delighted to add this highly significant work to the permanent collection."

"American Indian Symbols" is a brightly colored, abstract arrangement that incorporates elements of European modernism and American Indian motifs. Hartley journeyed to Berlin in 1913 after a period spent in the artistic circles of Paris. He conceived his "Amerika" series there, after seeing examples of German expressionist painting and viewing a collection of American Indian artifacts in the Berlin Ethnographic Museum. He created "American Indian Symbols" as one of the last paintings in the series in the summer of 1914. The other three major paintings in the "Amerika" series are "Indian Fantasy," 1914 (North Carolina Museum of Art); "Indian Composition," 1914 (Vassar College); and "Painting No. 50," 1914 (Terra Museum of American Art).

For Hartley, the "Amerika" series represented a fusion of the emotional intensity of German expressionism, the abstract compositional structure of cubism, a personal predilection for spiritualism, and a newly acquired interest in Native American subject matter. All the paintings in the series utilize similar formal elements: a centralized triangular tipi, brilliantly colored striped and circular forms, stylized seated figures with striped headdresses, and wheel-like star forms and broad blanket stripes suggesting Indian decoration. Although he clearly played to his American roots with this series, Hartley seems to have tailored his American Indian abstractions to his German audience. Traveling Wild West shows and popular literature with romantic Western themes had always been popular there, and the artifact collections at the Ethnographic Museum were justly famous. However, "American Indian Symbols" also includes decidedly German elements, most notably the military-inspired black and white checked banner that hangs along the right edge of the canvas.

"American Indian Symbols" will be on display in the Carter's new 6,200-square-foot paintings and sculpture gallery, part of the museum's addition of 20,000 square feet of exhibition space. The first full year following the reopening will feature works from the museum's permanent collection, which has grown from Amon G. Carter Sr.'s (1879--1955) original 400 works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell to almost 250,000 works of American art today.

About Marsden Hartley

Marsden Hartley was born in 1877 in Lewiston, Maine. His early paintings showed the influence of impressionism and post-impressionism. After 1909 his career was marked by a restless experimentation with elements of European modernism. He was strongly influenced by the work of the French painters Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse and the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, which he had seen in New York at The Little Galleries of the Photo Secession (known as 291), the avant-garde gallery managed by the noted photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Hartley also was exposed to their work and the tenets of modernism in general through the pages of Stieglitz's magazine, "Camera Work."

After the two met in 1909, Stieglitz immediately gave Hartley a solo exhibition of his work at 291. Stieglitz perceived in Hartley the future of a new, radical American art that would rival the modernist movement of Europe. Stieglitz supported Hartley's first trip to Paris later that year, where Hartley met and befriended author Gertrude Stein and a number of artists.

Acquiring a strong interest in the work of the German expressionists, Hartley traveled to Berlin and Munich in 1913 with a German friend he knew in Paris, sculptor Arnold Rönnebeck. Building upon his intuitive, visionary abstractions, Hartley began creating works that combined arrangements of colors, shapes, signs and symbols drawn from military pageants and mystical sources. These paintings were successful enough to be exhibited in Berlin, and Hartley grew increasingly attached to the artistic scene there. After a brief trip back to New York for the opening of his third solo show at 291 in January 1914, Hartley returned to Berlin and immersed himself in painting emblematic color abstractions. That summer, he painted the "Amerika" series.

On Aug. 3, 1914, while Hartley was completing the series, Germany declared war on France. He continued to work on his symbolic color paintings until October, when he learned of the death of one of his closest German friends and Rönnebeck's cousin, a casualty of battle. Almost immediately Hartley began a series of paintings based on abstract German military forms-the "War Motif" series-in partial homage to his slain friend. Although Hartley tried to remain in Germany, the escalating events of war forced him to sail for New York in December 1915. His greatest period of work-many would say the greatest period of work for any American modernist of the time-was at an end.

About the Amon Carter Museum

The Carter opened in 1961 through the generosity of Amon G. Carter Sr. (1879--1955) to house his collection of approximately 400 paintings and sculptures by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. The collection has since grown to almost 250,000 works of American art, including masterpieces in painting, sculpture, photography and works on paper by leading artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The photography collection alone is one of the largest and most significant in the country. As a whole, the Carter's collection presents a vivid panorama of American art and culture from 1825 to 1950.

The museum's new building will have three times the exhibition space as before, allowing four times the amount of artworks to be on view. The trademark façade and 19,000 square feet of architect Philip Johnson's original 1961 structure remain intact, while additions from 1964 and 1975 have been replaced with the new construction. The 94-year-old Johnson and his firm, Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects, designed the Carter expansion, resulting in what Johnson has called "by far the best building plan we have ever done." Thus, the architecture of the museum, both old and new, spans the career of one of the world's most distinguished architects.

The addition, covered in a rare brown Narjan granite that was quarried in Saudi Arabia and fabricated in Italy, was designed as an understated backdrop for the 1961 building, complementing its exterior of creamy Texas shell stone. The result is a stunning yet functional structure of timeless design that provides expansive areas not only for the display and storage of the collection but also for research, education, membership activities and other programs.

For more information about the Amon Carter Museum or to receive a Reopening Media Kit, please call Carol Noel, public relations coordinator, at 817.738.1933, ext. 283, or e-mail carol.noel@cartermuseum.org.