Hartley was the first modernist American painter. He abstracted nature – waves, rocks, clouds into block and balloons. He pre-dated Piccasso who got all the credit for abstracting shapes in nature.
He said it took four years to figure out how to paint the mountains; he really got it though. Clouds dance in the sky as waves thunder over dragon-tooth rocks. He painted with Der Brucke in Berlin, Kirschner, Schmidt-Rotluff… Hartley got the blacks from Beckman’s Grosse Schwartz lines. Waves explode on shore like Winslow Homer. We went with noted art critic Gerrard Haggetry. It was his third visit. Not many exhibits can hold interest for that long. Hartley is resonating with kids also. Many millennials were standing in groups in front of his paintings. The other galleries with typical contemporary construction type art were completely vacant; his exhibit was packed. For us, the only big let down were the figures. The arms looked like over-stuffed sausages and there is something going on in all the portraits with the left side of the subject. Looks like they slept wrong or got broadsided by a wagon back in the day. The left is always mush cramped in, and not in a El Greco mannerism. Just not lining up and in a bad wonky way. Not a cool folk art untrained eye as we know he can draw, but just awkward. Just because it’s in a museum does not make it good.
The landscapes are brilliant, American master, no European mannerisms like the golden section composition device. Mr. Hartley often just blobs something in the center with stunning success.
Artists like Milton Avery and Philip Guston went to school on this guy. A must see show!
AT THE MET BREUER UNTIL JUNE 18, 2017
945 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10021
Tuesday–Thursday: 10 am–5:30 pm
Friday and Saturday: 10 am–9 pm
Sunday: 10 am–5:30 pm