Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information
Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Lost Hartley Masterwork Leads Christie’s American Paintings Auction Season

NEW YORK – Christie’s is delighted to announce the consignment for sale of Marsden Hartley’s Lighthouse – an American Modernist masterwork and the finest painting of its kind to be offered in a generation. An oil on canvas measuring 40 by 30 inches, and created in Berlin in 1915, Lighthouse is presently on exhibit for the first time in the United States. Until now, the painting had remained in Germany, where it only recently came to light after its rediscovery in an East German museum.

Estimated at $5 to $7 million, Lighthouse is expected to set a new auction record for Hartley when it is offered for sale on May 21 at Christie’s New York auction of Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture. A high-point of Hartley’s early modernism, Lighthouse combines elements of Cubism and Expressionism into a monumental work of power and originality. Few modernists ever equaled the achievement of Hartley’s Berlin paintings, which are widely admired as the earliest and most compelling examples of American Modernism.

Eric Widing, Head of American Paintings, Christie’s Americas, says: “In the 1910s, Hartley’s modernism established a foundation for the exploration of a new visual vocabulary in American art.

One of the finest of his Berlin pictures, and among the greatest works Hartley ever produced, Lighthouse represents a rare example in private hands of a series critically important to the development of American modernism. Its premier exhibition in the United States this month is a momentous event.”

In recent months, the German courts restituted Lighthouse to its rightful owners, a German family who lost the painting during the Second World War, when the painting was seized by the Soviet authorities at the end of the conflict. Since 1954 it has been stored in a museum in Eastern Germany.

Marsden Hartley and Lighthouse – Out of the social, political and personal turmoil of his seminal trip to Europe from 1912 to 1915, Hartley produced some of his most important and original works of art. One of the artist’s last works created in Berlin, Lighthouse was painted in April, 1915, shortly before Hartley was forced to return to America due to the duress of the war.

Earlier in his career, Hartley had befriended the photographer and art dealer, Alfred Stieglitz, who offered him his first one man show at his gallery, 291, in May of 1909. Stieglitz also introduced him to the work of several contemporary European modernists whose art inspired Hartley to travel abroad. With Stieglitz’s assistance, he left for Paris in April 1912.

In Paris, Hartley befriended the famed ex-patriot writer Gertrude Stein and her brother, Leo, who introduced the artist to their famed salon where he encountered the work of Modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse and Paul Cezanne. On occasion, he met a few of these celebrated painters in person, while also forming a close relationship with a group of German artists who introduced him to the abstractions of Wassily Kandisky and Franz Marc– as well as to the German expressionist almanac, Der Blaue Reiter.

While Paris inspired him, it was Berlin that truly captured Hartley’s imagination. When he first traveled there in January, 1913, he immediately fell in love with the city and returned in May to live. Once settled in Berlin, in early 1914 Hartley embarked upon his Amerika series, using the German spelling of his home country to identify these innovative works. Through his interpretation of Native American symbolism which he boldly painted in an Expressionist, synthetic Cubist style, Hartley explored American themes and his identity as an American, while continuing to develop an entirely new way of seeing, wholly unlike any of the art produced by any of his American contemporaries.

The outbreak of war in August of 1914 and the subsequent loss in the hostilities of his friend, Lieutenant Karl von Freyburg, inspired Hartley to commence a new series based on German military themes. Using some of the visual elements and technical innovations of his Amerika series, Hartley incorporated in these new works martial iconography in an even bolder synthetic cubist style. In April of the following year, combining the progressive imagery of both the Amerika and German Officer series, Hartley produced several works, including Lighthouse, which stand as exuberant summations of his acclaimed Berlin pictures. Few works by any American have ever rivaled their passionate intensity, or their seminal importance to the advent of American modernism.

Auction: Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture May 21. Viewing: Christie’s Los Angeles April 8-10, 15-17. Christie’s New York May 17-20.